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"Fil d'argent, fil d'or"

Marie-Céline Labbé, Marion Treupel-Franck, transverse flute

rec: Nov 2013, Basse-Bodeux, Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Ramée - RAM 1405 (© 2015) (78'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Philidor

Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737) [1]: Assis sur l'herbette; Iris aux bords de Seine; J'ay passé deux jours sans vous voir; L'Amant le plus fidele; La Bergere Annette; Les Prés, les bois; Lisette aime son berger; Petitte Brunette aux yeux doux; Quelque puisse estre un amant; Vous estes trop inhumaine; Pierre Danican PHILIDOR (1681-1731): 1e Suitte in g minor [2]; 2e Suitte in G [2]; 3e Suitte in D [2]; 7e Suitte in b minor [3]; 8e Suitte in A major/minor [3]; 11e Suitte in e minor [4]

Sources: [1] Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Brunètes anciènes et modernes, [n.d.]; Pierre Danican Philidor, [2] Premier Oeuvre contenant III. Suittes à II. Flûtes Traversieres seules avec III. autres Suittes dessus et basses, pour les Hautbois, Flûtes, Violons, etc, 1717; [3] Deuxiéme Oeuvre contenant II. Suittes a 2. Flûtes-Travers.res seules avec II. autres Suittes dessus et basse, pour les Hautbois, Flûtes, Violons, etc, 1718; [4] Troisiéme Oeuvre contenant une Suitte a deux Flûtes-Traversieres seules, et und autre Suitte dessus et basse, pour les Hautbois, Flûtes, Violons, etc, 1718

The transverse flute is one of the oldest instruments in Western music. For a long time it was almost exclusively played in ensemble. Consort music, for instance, could not only be played by an ensemble of viols or recorders but also by flutes which in the renaissance were built in different ranges, comparable with those of the recorder. The latter remained the favoured instrument in most regions in Europe until the early 18th century. In the second half of the 17th century some transformations in the construction of the flute took place, especially in France. Whereas previously it was mainly used as a military instrument it started to play a role in chamber music. It became especially popular in the early decades of the 18th century which saw the emergence of playing music at the homes of the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie.

The publication of a treatise on playing the flute by Jacques Martin Hotteterre 'le Romain' in 1707 attests to its growing popularity. Further evidence is to be found in the number of collections of music for one or several flutes which came from the press. Some of these are for various instruments, to the choice of the performers. It was quite usual to see on the title pages several instruments being mentioned as alternatives: the recorder, the flute, the oboe, the violin and the viola da gamba. However, some composers also published music specifically intended for the transverse flute. The main composers of such music were members of the Philidor family, Michel Pignolet de Montéclair and Michel de La Barre.

In the 17th century the flute was thought to be especially suitable for "soft and charming music of a more touching nature, especially that in which love was a theme", as the article on the flute in New Grove puts it. The flute made its appearance in songs, especially brunettes, popular songs about love, mostly for one to three voices without accompaniment, and often with a refrain. This kind of songs remained popular well into the 18th century. No wonder that composers arranged them so that they could be played by the musical amateurs of their time. The present disc includes specimens of this genre from the pen of Michel Pignolet de Montéclair.

He was born as Michel Pignolet in Andelot in the Haute-Marne, and started his musical career as a choirboy in Langres cathedral. In 1687 he moved to Paris where in a tax register of 1695 he is described as "dancing and instrumental teacher of the third class". Here he added 'Montéclair' to his name, after a Gallo-Roman site on the hill of Montéclair in Andelot-Blancheville. He published various collections of airs for one and two voices and basso continuo. At the end of the century he was at the service of Charles-Henri de Lorraine Vaudémont, Prince of Commercy and Governor of Milan.

Montéclair published a collection of six concerts for two flutes which were recorded by Marie-Céline Labbé and Marion Treupel-Franck in 2009. On the present disc they play ten brunettes from the collection Brunètes anciènes et modernes which are scored for flutes or violins. Four of them are presented in the form of a suite, but the others are used as a kind of preludes to the suites by Pierre Danican Philidor. It is nice that the booklet includes the lyrics of the brunettes. The artists "hope that you will be able to hear that the original inspiration was a song - even if, as here, one without words". It would have been helpful if the lyrics had also been translated into English.

The name Philidor is inextricably bound up with the French court. The first member of this family that we know is Michel Danican, who seems to have been of Scottish origin. His family name may have been a corruption of 'Duncan'. Michel was at the service of Louis XIII as an oboist. His sons Michel and Jean also worked for him; the latter is the first who is known with the adopted name of Philidor (or Filidor). Members of the following generations would play an important role at the court for more than a century. Pierre started composing at an early age, and took over his father's position as oboist of the Grands Hautbois. Later on he became a member of the chambre du roy where Marin Marais and François Couperin were among his colleagues.

His extant oeuvre is rather small: in addition to some music for the stage only eighteen suites are known: six for a solo instrument and bc, six for two flutes and six for three instruments. New Grove also makes mention of dances and marches. The present disc includes the six suites for two flutes, without accompaniment. In his suites Philidor added ornamentation symbols but did not explain them. According to Marion Treupel-Franck in her liner-notes the ornamentation symbols "are sometimes graphically identical to Hotteterre's symbols while denoting something entirely different". One feature of Philidor's suites is the use of the flattement, "a softly mournful finger vibrato whose effect closely resembles the human (singing) voice". He was the first woodwind player to notate flattement precisely and extensively for slow and fast tempi. For that reason these suites are of considerable historical importance.

Each suite comprises four movements, except the 11e Suitte which has five. They show the influence of the Italian style: all the movements have French titles, often referring to dances, such as allemande, courante, sarabande and gavotte, but they are ordered according to the model of Corelli's sonate da chiesa. The first and third are slow, the second and fourth fast. Notable is the inclusion of a fugue in all but one of these suites. The 2e Suitte even includes two fugues. The 3e Suitte ends with a chaconne, a basso ostinato which was part of every opera by Lully in the preceding century. Various suites include a rondeau which was to become one of the most popular forms in French music of the 18th century.

Talking about the flute the German writer Joachim Christoph Nemeitz stated in 1727, that "the French play these instruments today with an unequalled delicacy". The flute suited the fashion of the time: music as a galant and refined conversation. That is also how music for the flute was written. The suites by Philidor and the brunettes by Montéclair are no virtuosic showpieces nor are there any harmonic experiments. As with their previous disc the artists show a good feeling for the character of this repertoire. They play with refinement, in a truly conversational style. The vocal origin of the brunettes comes of well. I have listened to this disc at a stretch and had no problems doing so, but those who are not particular flute aficionados are probably well advised to listen to a couple of suites and brunettes at a time. After all this music was never intended to be consumed all at once.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Marion Treupel-Franck

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