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Jean BOYER (bef. 1600 - 1648): "Chansons à boire et à danser - Airs de cour"

Ratas del viejo Mundo
Dir.: Floris De Rycker

rec: March 18 - 20, 2019, Antwerp, AMUZ
Ramée - RAM 1910 (© 2020) (53'51")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Absent de vos beaux jeux; Beau, voyant votre douceur; Beaux jeux divins, que voyez dans mon coeur; Compère, j'ai trouvé du vin; Courante; D'où vient que ces beaux jeux; Donne-moi ton pucelage; Filandre à rauy mon coeur/Iris, voulez vo' toujours vivre sous la dure loi du devoir?/Je n'ay rien veu dessous les cieux qui m'aye dompté de ses armes/L'autre jour dessus la fougère; Je suis à présent à moi; Je veux plutôt vivre pour te servir; N'avez-vous point d'autre discours; Quand je tiens ma chère bouteille; Que faisais-tu, gros garçon; Que ferai-je? Que dirai-je?; Quoi! Faut-il qu'une même flamme?; Rigoureux souvenir d'une joie passée; Sarabande; Si j'aime autre que vous; Sombres forêts, noires vallées

Michaela Riener, soprano; Soetkin Baptist, contralto; Tomàs Maxé, bass; Indré Jurgeleviciute, voice, kankles; Romina Lischka, viola da gamba; Jutta Troch, harp; Floris De Rycker, lute, theorbo, guitar, cittern; Dimos de Beun, harpsichord

The air de cour was one of the main genres of musical entertainment at the French court in the first half of the 17th century. Some composers who contributed to this genre are still well-known, such as Puerre Guédron, Antoine Boësset, Etienne Moulinié and Michel Lambert. 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. Some of these were originally written by Nicolas de la Grotte, on texts by Pierre de Ronsard. Until the end of the century various collections of airs de cour were published, but these were all polyphonic. However, they were different from the chansons which were written earlier in that they were simpler, strophic and homophonic. That allowed the text to be more clearly understandable.

The present disc includes a selection of airs by Jean Boyer, one of the lesser-known composers from the heydays of the genre. He was a man of many qualities: educated as a viola da gamba player, he also mastered plucked instruments as well as wind instruments, such as the oboe and the musette. It is very likely that he was of protestant confession. This did not prevent him from being appointed as viola da gamba player in the Chambre du roi and ordinaire de la musique of Louis XIII and his wife, Anne of Austria. This may well have been the effect of the Edict of Nantes, which was signed in April 1598 by King Henry IV and granted the Calvinist Protestants of France, also known as Huguenots, substantial rights in the nation.

Boyer's oeuvre comprises almost exclusively secular vocal music, especially airs de cour, which he published in four books between 1619 and 1642. Whereas the first book comprises songs for foir voices, the later collections are for one or two voices and accompaniment. The latter was usually meant to be played at the lute, one of the most revered instruments at the time. The performers have taken considerable liberties in this department. The programme offers a cross-section of Boyer's output: we get some songs from the first book, in which all the singers are involved, and songs from the later collections, in which some of them participate (a specification of the line-up in the various pieces would have been welcome). The character of the songs is also different: dance songs, which have an infectious rhythm, drinking songs and some bawdy items (which I could do without), as well as some serious pieces. The differences in content and musical character come off very well here.

It can only be appreciated that the ensemble offers the opportunity to become acquainted with an unknown master of the early 17th century in France. I can't remember having heard any of his music before. The entire musical world of early 17th-century France is not well-known, for that matter. There is some work to do in this respect. The singers do an excellent job here, and show great sensitivity to the variety in the repertoire. There is some engaging playing from the instrumentalists. From that perspective this disc deserve an unequivocal recommendation.

However, there are a couple of issues I have to mention. First, the performers could have been a little less economical: less than 54 minutes of music at full price is something of the old vinyl days. Second, I find the use of modern French pronunciation hard to understand. We know so much of the way French was pronounced at the time, that there is no justification to ignore it. A modern pronunciation sounds very unnatural to my ears. Third, as much as I am impressed by the way the various instruments are played, I wonder whether their variety is historically justified. I am particularly puzzled by the use of a kankles, a Lithuanian plucked instrument. Why on earth is such an instrument used in French music of the 17th century?

Some readers may care less about such issues. I am sure they will enjoy this disc, as I did, despite my reservations. The latter don't in any way compromise my appreciation of what is on offer here.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

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