musica Dei donum

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"Le berger innocent"

Ensemble Danguy
Dir: Tobie Miller

rec: Oct 19 - 22, 2022, Leymen, Église Saint-Léger
Ricercar - RIC 448 (© 2023) (73'58")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Le Berger innocenta; Servais BERTIN (c1687-1759): Tu ne m'écoutes point Lisettea; Joseph Bodin DE BOISMORTIER (1689-1755): Cinquième Gentillesse; Jean-François BOÜIN (c1716-c1781): Les Folies d'Espagne, 4e Divertissement Champêtre; Jean-Baptiste DUPUITS (17??-1759): Quatrième Suite d'Amusements en Duo; Sixième Sonate à deux vielles; Louis LEMAIRE (c1693-1750): La Musettea; Les Plaisirs champêtresa; Monsieur RAVET (fl 1750): 1er Sonate 'La Champêtre'

Monika Mauch, sopranoa; Tobie Miller, Alice Humbert, vielle; François Lazarevitch, musette; Ellie Nimeroski, violin; Caroline Ritchie, viola da gamba, cello; Nora Hansen, bassoon; Sam Chapman, theorbo, guitar; Nadja Lesaulnier, harpsichord

The 18th century saw the emergence of a lively interest in music that was characteristic of a particular country or region. It was the time of the Enlightenment, and part of its philosophy embraced a wish to increase knowledge and an emphasis on the importance of learning. This resulted in an investigation of unknown cultures, such as those of people from outside Europe. This explains the references to Turks, 'Indians' or Incas in French music of the 18th century. The most famous example is Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Les Indes galantes. Composers also became interested in the traditional music from their own country. In England several composers showed interest in traditional music from Scotland, even immigrants such as Francesco Geminiani. This went hand in hand with an increasing longing for 'naturalness', as expressed, for instance, by Giuseppe Tartini, but also in opera by Christoph Willibald von Gluck.

In France authors, artists and composers idealized life at the countryside. Paintings by the likes of Watteau attest to that. In music the word champêtre was often used as the title of compositions or movements of larger works. The vie champêtre - life at the countryside - attracted a strong attraction. Two instruments were the symbol of the countryside: the vielle (hurdy-gurdy) and the musette, and in the course of the century a large repertoire for these two instruments was written by composers of different stature. Some of them are largely forgotten, especially because they did not write anything else, but others are still well-known, such as Joseph Bodin de Boismortier. Tobie Miller has specialized in playing the vielle and with her Ensemble Danguy she has released three discs, the latest of which is the subject of this review.

On her first disc (La belle vielleuse she showed that some music for the vielle was quite virtuosic, and beyond the skills of amateurs. Two composers included in the programme make an appearance on the present disc as well: Jean-Baptiste Dupuits and Monsieur Ravet. Whereas on that disc her own instrument is in the centre, here she is joined by François Lazarevitch, who plays the musette. The two instruments were more or less interchangeable, as Michel Lemeu explains in his liner-notes. "The vielle and the musette shared similar organological and musical principles, these being the use of a drone tone and an unbroken stream of sound. The vielle possessed strings and the musette pipes: one or more notes are constantly sustained and set a linear horizon for the shaping of the melody. The turning of the vielle's wheel acts as a continuous bow, whilst the musette's bellows function as an air reservoir; the two ensure that the musical flow is never interrupted and is also framed by the drone notes. The trompette - the highest-pitched of the drone strings - rests on a buzzing bridge known as the chien, which is itself activated by strokes of the wrist in an idiomatic rhythmic pattern."

Whereas the first recording opened with a cantatille in praise of the vielle, the first piece on the present disc is a cantatille about the musette, by Louis Lemaire, who was a pupil of Sébastien de Brossard. He composed some sacred music, but the largest part of his output consists of secular vocal works, among them 66 cantatilles. La Musette opens with an air: "To win my youthful heart, said the charming Lisette, faithful Mirthil with his sweet musette sings to me each day of his amorous ardour." Les plaisirs champêtres is another cantatille, expressing the delight of life at the countryside, and the first air again refers to the musette. In both pieces the voice is accompanied by three instruments: vielle, musette and violin. Whereas in these pieces the ensemble includes a basso continuo part, Tu ne m'écoutes point Lisette by Servais Bertin is a trio for voice, vielle and musette. It is called an air pour la vielle et la musette and is taken from one of Bertin's collections of airs sérieux et à boire. This indicates that it is part of a long tradition, whose roots are in the air de cour of the 17th century. This particular piece is a vaudeville, the 'popular' kind of air.

Life on the countryside, often identified with the mythological world of Arcadia, was always associated with nymphs and shepherds, and was the ideal of the aristocracy across Europe. This is expressed here in the anonymous song Le berger innocent, which has given this disc its title. "Tircis and Célimene, both inexperienced, scarcely conversed, not daring to raise their eyes: She was called Simplette, and the shepherd Innocent; and they often slept alone on the green grass."

Whereas these pieces were clearly intended for amateurs, the instrumental works are often technically demanding, and stuff for professional players. A particularly impressive example is the Sixième Sonate à deux vielles by Jean-Baptiste Dupuits. He was a composer and a teacher of harpsichord and hurdy-gurdy. He claimed to be a student of André Campra. In 1753 he opened a public school of music which gradually expanded into a supply of courses for every instrument. His first publication was a method for the hurdy-gurdy: Principes pour toucher de la vièle avec 6 sonates, probably printed in 1741. The two vieille parts have features which are not any different from what was written for other instruments, such as the violin or the oboe. The Quatrieme Suite d'Amusements en Duo is from his Op. 2, which includes duets for two instruments, the choice of which is at the discretion of the performers. Here the suite is performed as a duet of vielle and musette.

Very little is known about Ravet, and that includes his Christian name: he is only known as Monsieur Ravet. Three collections of pieces for one or two hurdy-gurdies are extant, and it seems that he exclusively composed for this instrument. The 1er Sonate 'La Champêtre' is from his Op. 2 and here the possibilities of the vielle to play in two parts through arpeggios is explored. In the two last movements the major and minor keys alternate.

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was one of the most prolific composers of his time. He wrote music for each instrument in vogue, and mostly left it to the performers to choose on which instrument to play it. He published so much, that he could afford never to be in the service of an employer. He composed a number of gentillesses for two instruments and basso continuo, and again the performers can choose their favourite instruments. In the Cinquième gentillesse performed here, the vielle is partnered by the violin.

The programme ends with another virtuosic piece, by Jean-François Boüin. It seems that he also composed exclusively for the vielle, and that may well explain that, like Monsieur Ravet, he is not included in New Grove. In 1761 he published his treatise La Vielleuse habile as his Op. 3. "[It[ represents the culmination of the vielle's development over half a century and also provides instructions for the performance of its repertoire in accordance with the period in which the pieces were composed. It takes the vielle to the furthest extremes of its range and demands a technical skill that was surely far beyond amateur players", Michel Lemeu writes. The heart of the 4e Divertissement Champêtre is a series of 18 variations on Les Folies d'Espagne, as it was known in France, elsewhere as La Folia. It was a very popular theme, going back as far as the 15th century. Here Boüin explores all the technical possibilities of the vielle, including playing in chords through arpeggios; the 17th variation is notated in chords. The third movement is an gavotte, an arrangement of a piece written by François Francoeur and François Rebel for a revival of Jean-Baptiste Lully's opera Amadis.

Those who have the first disc of the Ensemble Danguy will not be surprised about the techical level of some of the pieces performed here. Those who don't know that disc may wonder how such a 'popular' instrument, associated with the countryside and the life of shepherds, could inspire composers to such brilliant pieces. The work of Tobie Miller in demonstrating that the vielle is a serious instrument that is in no way inferior to the violin, the flute or the oboe, cannot be appreciated enough. For me, the first disc was an ear-opener. The present disc further documents the quality of the repertoire for the vielle, this time with interesting additions in pieces for two vielles and the combination of vielle and musette. Tobie Miller is a real virtuoso, and her playing is impressive and often outright breathtaking. François Lazarevitch, whom we know as a player of recorder and transverse flute, presents himself here as an equally skilled player of the musette. Alice Humbert is Miller's equal partner on the second vielle. The contributions of the other members of the ensemble are excellent. And I should not forget to mention the splendid contributions of the German soprano Monika Mauch. It is always a pleasure to listen to her, and it deserves much praise that she uses historical prionunciation.

Given the quality of the music and the performances and the fact that the repertoire is rare, this disc deserves a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Danguy

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