musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Airs de cour

[I] "La chambre bleu - Music of the 17th-century Parisian salons"
Deborah Cachet, soprano; Sofie Vanden Eynde, theorbo
rec: July 9 - 10, 2022, Ghent, Kape, Terhaegen
Passacaille - PAS 1097 (© 2023) (58'37")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

anon: J'avais crû qu'en vous aimant; Sébastien LE CAMUS (1610-1677): Amour, cruel Amour; Je passais de tranquilles jours; Laissez durer la nuit; On n'aime plus dans ces bocages; Que j'aime encore ce beau séjour; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Ah, laissez-moi rêver (H 441); Celle qui fait tout mon tourment (H 450); Sans frayeur dans ce bois (H 467); Tristes déserts (H 469); Robert DE VISÉE (c1650/65-after 1732): Allemande in a minor; Allemande La Conversation; Chaconne in a minor; Passacaille in d minor; Prélude in c minor; Prélude in d minor; Prélude in a minor; Rondeau La mascarade; Sarabande in c minor

[II] "La Rêveuse"
Earthly Angels
rec: July 2020, Pietarsaari (FI), Schauman Hall
Alba - ABCD 464 (© 2020) (58'08")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Christophe BALLARD (1641-1715): J'avois crû qu'en vous aymant [3]; Jean-Baptiste Drouard DE BOUSSET (1662-1725): Pourquoy, doux rossignol [6]; Joseph CHABANCEAU DE LA BARRE (1633-1678): J'avois juré de n'aymer plus [1]; Quand une ame est bien atteinte [1]; Vous demnandez pour qui mon coeur soûpire [1]; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 14e Ordre in D (Les Fauvètes plaintives) [7]; Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661): Suite in C; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Bourasque [2]; La Rêveuse [5]; Prélude [2]; Julie PINEL (c1710-1737): Charmant repos, paisible indifférence [8]; Douce innocence régne sur nos coeurs [8]; Mes yeux, ne versez plus de pleurs [8]; Sombres lieux, obscures forêts [8]; Robert DE VISÉE: La mascarade [4]; La petite brunette [4]

Sources: [1] Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre, Airs à deux parties, avec les seconds couplets en diminution, 1669; [2] Marin Marais, Pièces de viole, Livre II, 1701; [3] Christophe Ballard, ed., Brunettes ou petits airs tendres, 1703; [4] Robert de Visée, Pièces de théorbe et de luth, 1716; [5] Marin Marais, Pièces de viole, Livre IV, 1717; [6] Jean-Baptiste Drouart de Bousset, Airs et brunettes, 1721; [7] François Couperin, Pièces de clavecin, Livre III, 1722; [8] Julie Pinel, Nouveau recueil d'airs sérieux, 1737

Kajsa Dahlbäck, soprano; Heidi Peltoniemi, viola da gamba; Simone Vallerotonda, theorbo; Aapo Häkkinen, harpsichord

[III] "De la cour de Louis XIV à Shippagan! - Chants traditionnels acadiens at airs de cour du XVIIe siècle" (Traditional acadian songs and airs de cour of the 17th century)
Suzie LeBlanc, soprano, dulcimer; Ellen Torrie, soprano, guitar; Vincent Lauzer, recorder; Marie Nadeau-Tremblay, violin; Sylvain Bergeron, archlute, guitar
rec: June 16 - 18, 2021, Mirabel, Église Saint-Augustin
ATMA - ACD2 2837 (© 2022) (63'40")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Jean-Baptiste DE BOUSSET (1662-1725) / Michel BLAVET (1700-1768): Pourquoy doux rossignol?; Honoré D'AMBRUIS (2nd half 17th C): Pour charmer les ennuits; Louis-Claude DAQUIN (1694-1772): La coucou / trad: Le matou; Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE 'le Romain' (1673-1763): Je suis aimé de celle que j'adore (Lambert); Michel LAMBERT: Jugez de ma douleur; Ma bergère; trad: Chanson des amants; Le berger; Le coq et la poule; Rossignol sauvage; Robert DE VISÉE: Prélude - sarabande - gigue in g minor; Robert DE VISÉE: Chaconne in G / Michel LAMBERT: Goûtons un doux repos

When in Italy around 1600 the prima pratica was born, one of the effects was the emergence of opera. It soon became one of the most revered genres of musical entertainment, and this had a far-reaching influence on the musical climate in Italy. It explains why Italian music, whether vocal or instrumental, whether sacred or secular, has marked theatrical traits. In France the musical climate was very different. Opera started to become an important genre only in the second half of the 17th century, and one of its main elements was the dance. Whereas in Italy the most beloved instrument was the violin, for which virtuosic and extroverted music was written, in France the much more intimate sound of the lute was most appreciated, alongside the sweet sounds of the viola da gamba. Restraint was the name of the game in France: openly expressing one's emotions was just not done. No wonder, then, that French music of the 17th century is more introverted; until far into the 18th century music was considered a part of a galant conversation between individuals. That does not mean that music lacked expression. The second disc to be reviewed here puts the character of French music with the words "intime et grandiose": "The music is intimate while at the same time full of grandieuse feelings emerging from love and nature."

One of the main - and typically French - genres of secular music was the air de cour. The term air de cour was used for the first time by the music publisher Adrian Le Roy who in 1571 published the collection Livre d'air de cours miz sur le luth: songs for voice and lute. He explained that he had adapted simple songs which were known as vaudeville or voix de ville. Until the end of the century various collections of airs de cour were published, but these were all polyphonic. In the middle of the 17th century, the air de cour started to change. The form of the air became increasingly popular and disseminated among lower echelons of society. Songs of different nature were written, and this resulted in the birth of some subgenres, such as the air sérieux, the air à boire, the air spirituel and the air de ballet. An interesting aspect of this genre is that is was also a link in the development of opera.

Some composers who contributed to this genre are still well-known, such as Pierre Guédron, Antoine Boësset, Etienne Moulinié and Michel Lambert. Among the latter's songs Ombre de mon amant is by far the most famous; it could not be omitted in the recital by Déborah Cachet and Sofie Vanden Eynde. The nice thing about the first two discs under review here is that the most famous names and the best-known airs are avoided. Marc-Antoine Charpentier's airs probably represent the least-known part of his oeuvre. Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre is a relatively little-known composer, whereas Honoré d'Ambruys and Julie Pinel are late representatives of a genre whose heydays were in the second half of the 17th century.

Deborah Cachet and Sofie Vanden Eynde have put together a programme, in which airs and lute pieces alternate. Five airs are from the pen of Sébastien Camus, who was quite famous, but about whose life not that much is known. Around 1640 he entered the service of King Louis XIII, and from 1660 onwards he was in charge of the Queen's music - together with Jean-Baptiste de Boësset. When Louis Couperin died in 1661 he was appointed musicien ordinaire of Louis XIV as a player of the theorbo and the viol. Marc-Antoine Charpentier was never connected to the court, and that was largely due to Jean-Baptiste Lully's influence, who did not like Charpentier's Italian leanings. The latter had been in Rome and was strongly influenced by Giacomo Carissimi. Lully had been especially appointed to make sure that the French style remained free of such influences. Charpentier's oeuvre includes about thirty airs de cour; in 2016 Glossa released a disc devoted to this part of his oeuvre. It is nice that Cachet and Vanden Eynde included three airs that don't appear on that recording.

The airs are separated by pieces for the theorbo by Robert de Visée, who was not only a famous player of lute and theorbo, but also Louis XIV's guitar teacher. We get here preludes and dances, as well as some character pieces. Obviously, a chaconne could not be omitted. It is an example of a basso ostinato, which was highly revered across Europe. The programme also ends with such a piece: In Charpentier's Sans frayeur dans ce bois, the theorbo plays a fixed bass pattern.

Overall I am happy with this disc. The fact that it includes airs that are not that well-known - except Ombre de mon amant - speaks in favour of it. I also like the alternation of airs and pieces for theorbo; the latter receive excellent performances from Sofie Vanden Eynde. Deborah Cachet is a fine singer with a nice voice; I like her approach to these airs. The ornamentation is stylish and in line with the conventions of the time. It is regrettable that she does not use historical pronunciation. It is also a shame that now and then, and especially at the end of phrases, she uses a bit too much vibrato. However, it is not very wide, and it did not really spoil my enjoyment.

The ensemble Earthly Angels put together a programme, in which the main genres of French music in the 17th and early 18th centuries come together. Paris - and later Versailles - was the place to be for performing musicians and composers. Many of them were connected to the court in one way or another, and a substantial part of the music written in France was intended for performance at the court.

The role of Visée, who is also represented here with a few pieces, was already mentioned. Marin Marais was the most famous player of the viola da gamba around 1700. In 1679 he was appointed ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi. Louis Couperin was educated as an organist and viol player; he also acted as ordinaire de la musique de la chambre, but then for the treble viol. His nephew François worked as an organist as well, and was appointed organiste du roi in 1693. He also was the keyboard teacher of the children of the royal family. The instrumental pieces have been selected because of their intimate character, emphasizing the general nature of the programme, Marais' piece La Rêveuse has given this disc its title, which is highly appropriate. François Couperin's Les fauvètes plaintives is its keyboard counterpart.

The vocal items on this disc all belong among the genre of the air sérieux. The performers have selected pieces by lesser-known representatives of the genre. Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre was organist at the royal chapel. His songs may have been mainly written for his sister, Anne, who was one of the leading singers at the court. The interesting thing about his songs is that they are provided with elaborate doubles. These offer valuable information about the way such songs were performed at the time. Christophe Ballard was born into a famous dynasty of music printers. Most collections of airs de cour were published by Ballard firm. After 1700 they published the first airs with basso continuo on a monthly basis until 1715. René Drouart de Bousset was a composer and singer; he worked as maître de musique to the Académie Française. The two songs by Ballard and Bousset were included in anthologies of airs and brunettes. The latter belong among the genre of the airs sérieux, but have a more bucolic character. Bousset's song Pourquoy, doux rossignol is a good example: "Why, o sweet nightingale, do you wake me here in the shadeful place before dawn"? The mythological name of Climene appears later in the poem.

Julie Pinel was born into a musical family of mostly lutenists. Germain Pinel (?-1661) was Louis XIV's lute teacher from 1747 to 1656. Julie - not mentioned in New Grove - was active as a composer and harpsichord teacher. Due to her early death only two collections of music have come down to us, one of them the Nouveau recueil d'airs sérieux of 1737. Whereas two of her airs are strophic, the other two are through-composed.

A few years ago I reviewed a disc of the ensemble Earthly Angels with music from women's convents. I rated it pretty highly, and here we have another good recording of very different repertoire. I like Kajsa Dahlbäck's voice, and I am happy that she decided to use historical pronunciation, which is still rather rare in French music. Although she is not free of a narrow vibrato here and there, her interpretations are very good, and the doubles in Chabanceau de La Barre's airs have inspired her to add doubles of her own in other songs. The instrumental items are all excellently executed. That said, the main attraction of this disc are the airs, and the fact that most of them are by relatively little-known composers contributes to its importance.

The last disc is a bit of an outsider as here we get some French airs which are embedded into a programme that is devoted to the music which came into existence in Acadia, "a colony of New France in northeastern North America which included parts of what are now the Maritime provinces, the Gaspé Peninsula and Maine to the Kennebec River. During much of the 17th and early 18th centuries, Norridgewock on the Kennebec River and Castine at the end of the Penobscot River were the southernmost settlements of Acadia. The French government specified land bordering the Atlantic coast, roughly between the 40th and 46th parallels. It was eventually divided into British colonies. The population of Acadia included the various indigenous First Nations that comprised the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Acadian people and other French settlers." (Wikipedia)

"There is no doubt that the majority of traditional Acadian songs come from France; their origins can even be traced back to the various regions. Songs, just like peoples, are nomadic: they have no borders! The lyrics, like the melodies, often change as they travel", Suzie LeBlanc states in her liner-notes. "Versions also varied, not only from one Acadian region to another, but also from one performer to another, with each artist giving their own special touch. This is what I’m doing on this album by combining early Acadian songs with 17th-century French airs de cour. Although early sacred works were more popular than arias and cantatas in New France, these common airs de cour may very well have crossed the Atlantic stowed in the baggage of musicians and noblemen who came as settlers. It is well known that the French nobility who had settled in Quebec in the 17th century wanted to reproduce the glories of Versailles, and some of these airs de cour could have reached the shores of Shippagan." The latter is one of the towns in the region.

The selection of airs offers a mixture of well-known and lesser-known composers. Michel Lambert is one of the most famous composers of airs de cour. What is notable in Ma bergère and Jugez de ma douleur, is that they include parts for melody instruments. In his collection of 1689, the doubles are replaced by instrumental ritornellos. Two airs are performed here instrumentally. That is to say, Michel Blavet arranged Jean-Baptiste Bousset's Pourquoy doux rossignol for the transverse flute and Jacques-Martin Hotteterre did the same with Lambert's Je suis aimé de celle que j'adore. Whereas the latter is entirely performed instrumentally, the former is preceded by the original vocal version. Several composers from the first half of the 18th century published collections of airs et brunettes in instrumental arrangements. They attest to the great popularity of these genres and also the fast-growing community of amateurs who liked to play such songs in the salons.

This disc offers an interesting combination of 'art music' and traditional pieces. Suzie LeBlanc has made a great career in early music, and has always been a very fine singer. She has lost nothing of her qualities, as she proves here. Her performances of the airs de cour are top-class, and - as one may expect - she uses historical pronunciation. Her ornamentation is impeccable. I don't feel free to assess her performances of the traditional part of the programme; I just don't have the parameters to do so. One probably needs to be open to this kind of music, which is different from the airs de cour. Let me add, though, that the instrumentalist deliver excellent performances. This disc is both interesting and entertaining.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Sylvain Bergeron
Deborah Cachet
Vincent Lauzer
Suzie LeBlanc
Marie Nadeau-Tremblay
Ellen Torrie
Sofie Vanden Eynde
Earthly Angels

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