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"La Magnifique - Flute Music for the Court of Louis XIV"

Barthold Kuijkena, Immanuel Davisb, transverse flute; Arnie Tanimoto, viola da gambac; Donald Livingston, harpsichordd

rec: Oct 17 - 19, 2017, Mew York, American Academy of Arts and Letters
Naxos - 8.579083 (© 2021) (68'45")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Michel de LA BARRE (1675-1745): Suite No. 9 in G 'Sonate L'Inconnue'bcd [4]; Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749): Simphonie No. 7 in e minor 'Sonata detta La Magnifique'abcd; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Concert No. 13 in G (transposed to D)ab [9]; Vous qui craignez que l'Amouracd [3]; Louis-Antoine DORNEL (c1680-after 1756): Suite in b minor, op. 2,2 (sarabande 'La Descosteaux')acd [5]; Jacques HOTTETERRE 'le Romain' (1673-1763): J'ecoûtois autrefois - Double: Je n'entens qu'à regretad; Trio sonata in D, op. 3,2abcd [6]; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1689): On a beau feindre (ritournelle)abcd [1]; Vos mépris chaque jour (ritournelle)abcd [1]; Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Le Triomphe de l'Amour, ballet (LV 59) (Ritournelle pour Diane)abcd; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Suite No. 2 in g minor (prélude; fantaisie; sarabande II; gigue; menuet II; plainte; petite passacaille)abcd [2]; Philibert RÉBILLÉ (1639-after 1717): Menueta [7]; Robert DE VISÉE (1660?-1733?): Suite No. 9 in e minor (sarabande)acd [8]

Sources: [1] Michel Lambert, Airs à une, II. III. et IV. parties avec la basse-continue, 1689; [2] Marin Marais, Pièces en trio, 1692; [3] François Couperin, Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1699; [4] Michel de La Barre, Deuxième livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière, avec la basse continuë, 1710/R; [5] Louis-Antoine Dornel, Sonates à violon seul et suites pour la flûte traversière avec la basse, 1711; [6] Jacques-Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain', Sonates en trio pour les flûtes traversieres, flûtes a bec, violons, hautbois, etc, livre premier, op. 3, 1712; [7] André Danican Philidor, Suite de dances, qui se joüent ordinairement à tous les Bals chez de Roy, 1712; [8] Robert de Visée, Pièces de théorbe et de luth mises en partition, dessus et basse, 1716; [9] François Couperin, Les goûts-réünis, ou Nouveaux concerts, 1724

Two wind instruments which played an important role in Western music in the 18th century, found their origin in France, at or around the court. One was the oboe, the other the transverse flute. Whereas the former was mostly played by professionals, the latter became one of the most fashionable instruments among amateurs, in France and in other countries, especially Germany. The present disc is a kind of sounding history of the flute in France from its origins in the 1670s until the first decades of the 18th century, when it disseminated among society and was frequently played in the salons of its higher echelons.

Its refined character and sound fitted well into the social ideals of the time, as decribed in the liner-notes. "Life at the Court of Louis XIV was extremely prescribed. There were countless rules of conduct for every situation. Emotions, in particular, were to be kept under control. Even when people were seething or longing in their souls, on the surface they were to remain in control. Emotions, as deeply as they might be felt, were never to be on display. Proper etiquette must prevail!" Rules in music were also strict, for instance with regard to ornamentation. Music had a strong amount of predictability. "There are no sudden musical outbursts or sforzandos in this programme". This explains why the French did not like Italian music: it was unpredictable and emotionally explosive. Another feature the French did not like was technical virtuosity.

The latter is another omission in this repertoire. Music was not meant to impress, but intended as entertainment at a high level, and a kind of elegant conversation. The fact that the flute had its origin at the court, explains why in its early days it was used for the instrumental performance of songs, so-called airs de cour, either <>airs sérieux or airs à boire. The programme includes several of such songs, either in instrumental versions by the performers or in transcriptions by composers of the time, such as Jacques-Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain' and François Couperin. This is also relevant in two aspects of this production. First, printed editions of such transcriptions offer examples of the way a song can be ornamented, which makes them very important sources for modern interpreters of French music. Second, the construction of the transverse flute was inspired by the wish to play vocal music. "Because these flutes 'speak' easily, they allow the flautist to use articulation syllables described in treatises of the time that help them mimic and inflect the text of a song. (...) The flutes have both the ability to sing and give the impression of speech - almost reproducing the text of a song". This was all in the interest of the ideal of music as an elegant conversation.

The programme is a mixture of pieces from different stages in the composing for and playing of the flute. On the one hand, we get some vocal items and other small pieces, which require an intimate way of playing. On the other hand, the programme also includes more extroverted pieces, for instance a trio sonata by Hotteterre, whose nickname 'le Romain' was the result of a stay in Rome, which had a clear influence on his way of composing. He and Michel de La Barre were two of the main promoters of the flute. The latter was the greatest flautist of his time, and produced a large number of pieces for one and two flutes, either with or without basso continuo. In particular in the 1720s he published a series of suites for two flutes without accompaniment, which were ideal for domestic music making.

Arrangements were common in the baroque era across Europe. It was a way to serve the growing number of amateurs with music they could play on whatever instruments were available. Treatises were written to instruct them how they could adapt a piece to a different instrument, if needed. Such an adaptation is Couperin's Concert No. 13 from the collection Les Goûts-réünis of 1724. These are for two equal instruments without basso continuo. For this performance on two flutes, it has been transposed from G to D major.

Marin Marais's Pièces en trio were published in 1692 and were likely intended for performance at the private chambers of Louis XIV. They are comparable with Jean-Baptiste Lully's Trios pour le coucher du roi. They are scored like trio sonatas, for two treble instruments and basso continuo, but comprise mostly dances. We get here extracts from the Suite No. 2 in g minor, which opens with a prélude, followed by a fantaisie. It ends with a petite passacaille. If there is any form in French music that comes close to Italian virtuosity, it is the chaconne or passacaille, which was a fixed part of any opera and of many instrumental suite. Earlier, it was stated that emotions were to be kept under strict control. Two typical French forms were suited to give way to human feelings: pieces with the title plainte, one of which we find in this suite by Marais, and the tombeau, which a composer wrote in memory of a deceased friend, colleague or teacher.

However, even in such pieces, subtlety was the name of the game. Barthold Kuijken has always been a master of refinement and subtlety, and one can leave it to him to bring this programme to life in a way which does full justice to its character. Immanuel Davis is his congenial partner, and they receive appropriate support from Arnie Tanimoto and Donald Livingston. This is music for a quiet afternoon or evening and needs to be savoured in full concentration. The listener will be richly rewarded.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Immanuel Davis
Barthold Kuijken
Donald Livingston
Arnie Tanimoto

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