Où la musique vive: Airs de cour and lute solos of 16th- and 17th-century France
Ainsi qu’on ay le cerf bruire (Ps. 42) à 4 Claude Goudimel (ca. 1514–1572) and
Nicolas Vallet (ca. 1583–after 1642) (arr. Rice)
Dessoubz le may à 4 Guillaume Costeley (ca. 1530–1606)
Si je languis d’un martire incogneu Thibault de Courville (d. 1571)
Ma belle si ton ame Gabriel Bataille (ca. 1575–1630)
Ma bergere non légere Bataille
Qui veut chasser une migraine Bataille
Chanton de Dieu les merveilles à 4 Costeley
O mon amour à 5 Claude le Jeune (ca. 1528–1600)
Entrée de luthe Robert Ballard (ca. 1575–1649)
Bransle de Village Ballard
Cessés mortels de soupirer Pierre Guédron (ca. 1564–ca. 1621)
Est-ce Mars Guédron
Eau vive, source d’amour Jacques Mauduit (1557–1627)
Enfin la beauté que jadore Etienne Moulinié (ca. 1600–after 1669)
Je le confesse à 5 le Jeune
Friday, October 19, 2007 at 8pm
First Lutheran Church of Boston, 299 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA
Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 3pm
Christ Church Andover, 33 Central Street, Andover, MA
Shannon Canavin, soprano
Catherine Hedberg, mezzo-soprano
Jason McStoots & Eric Rice, tenor
Brian Church, bass
Catherine Liddell, lute
Notes on the Program
European music at the close of the sixteenth century was at a critical juncture. On the one hand, there was a coalescing of an international style of vocal polyphony embodied in the works of Palestrina and his contemporaries, a style that has been continuously studied and taught in the Western musical tradition to the present day. On the other, increasing familiarity with the musical principles of ancient Greece and Rome led composers to question the validity of the nearly universal “Palestrina” style. In Italy, new applications of ancient rhetorical and musical principles led to a new emphasis on melody, which was accompanied by simple, chordal accompaniment on plucked-string instruments that were heard as analogues to Apollo’s lyre. The Italian style emphasized above all the expression of emotion, and was employed in dramatic productions in emulation of Greek tragedy, productions that were the first examples of the genre we now know as opera.
In France, this new style, which was known as monody, was slow to take. In the 1570s, around the same time that a group of Florentine nobles, poets, and musicians calling themselves the Camerata first met to discuss ways to emulate Greek tragedy, a similar group known as the Académie de Poésie et de Musique was assembled in Paris under the auspices of King Charles IX. The founders of the Académie were the poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf (1532 – 1589) and the composer Joachim Thibault de Courville (d. 1571). Their aim was to emulate the Greek music and poetry that Plato, in his Republic, had described as so emotionally effective that it could induce excellent morals in its listeners. Rather than simply focus on the musical inflection of individual words to convey emotion, Baïf sought to apply the principles of quantitative verse — the patterns of long and short syllables that structured antique poetry — to the French language. This style of verse, which Baïf termed vers mesurés à l’antique (“verse measured in the ancient manner”), was set to homophonic music that matched the rhythm of Baïf’s poetry. Known as musique mesurée à l’antique and best exemplified by the chansons of Claude le Jeune (ca. 1528 – 1600), this music employed long notes for long or accented syllables and short notes for short or unaccented syllables. Because of the irregular accent patterns of this kind of poetry, the rhythm does not fall into a regular meter, but alternates between groupings of twos and threes. It thus relies heavily on the rhythm of the poetry as well as melodic and harmonic inflection for its emotional impact.
Over time, the polyphonic chanson performed by a group of singers was replaced by the air de cour or court air, a chanson for a soloist with lute accompaniment. Initially, the combination of lute and voice was simply an acceptable arrangement of an existing chanson for several voices, and a few composers on tonight’s program earned considerable income from such arrangements. In these versions, the original rhythm of the song and its text was preserved, and similar rhythmic principles were often applied in newly composed chansons that were conceived as solo songs with lute accompaniment from the beginning. Our program samples some of each kind of work: a cappela chansons for four and five voices and airs de cour for a soloist and lute. Though initially a wonderfully convenient way to realize the polyphony of a chanson, soon the lute developed the same associations with the lyre that had long been the norm in Italy, and France’s transition into the Baroque era was underway.
Ainsi qu’on oit le cerf bruire (Goudimel)
Interest in the music of Antiquity was not the only force that drove composers to seek alternatives to the complex polyphony of the sixteenth century. Another was the Protestant Reformation, which sought to involve worshippers in the liturgy through the singing of psalms in the vernacular to simple, memorable tunes. The poet Clément Marot (ca. 1496 – ca. 1544) was one of the principal translators of psalms for use in Geneva, a Protestant stronghold, and his text of Psalm 42 exemplifies the strict patterns of accented and unaccented syllables required to fix multiple stanzas of text to the same tune. The tune associated with this psalm is a lilting, dance-like melody that alternates patterns of two and three beats. The rhythm conforms to that of poetry, serving as a precursor to musique mesurée à l’antique. It was set polyphonically by a number of composers, but arrangements by Claude Goudimel (ca. 1514 – 1572) are perhaps the best known. Goudimel’s career as a chanson composer took a dramatic turn when he converted to the Protestant faith and focused his attention on polyphonic settings of psalms. Our performance of two of his settings includes all seven strophes of the psalm, beginning with the tune a cappella. Lute accompaniment by Nicolas Vallet (ca. 1583 – after 1642) graces the next two strophes. Vallet’s Regia pietas (1620) contains many settings for the lute of Genevan psalm tunes that, despite their complexity, seem to have been intended to accompany singing rather than to stand alone as concert pieces; a small “X” in the tablature indicates where each syllable of text is to be sung. The last four strophes are settings by Goudimel: the first two are simple and homophonic, with the tune in the second tenor; the last two are contrapuntal, with the tune in the top voice. The tune and the psalm associated with it, with its references to religious persecution, seem to have become especially significant to the Protestant cause following the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, which took the lives of many Protestants, including Goudimel himself. The tune continues to be sung in Protestant churches today, often bearing the Lenten text “Comfort, comfort ye my people.”
Dessoubz le mai (Costeley)
Guillaume de Costeley (ca. 1530 – 1606) was a member of Baïf’s Académie and a composer in the court of Charles IX. His principal output was in keyboard music, but he was also a specialist in polyphonic chansons in largely homorhythmic style and strophic form. Dessoubz le mai does not conform exactly to Baïf’s principles for setting measured verse, perhaps suggesting that its composition preceded the early meetings of the Académie. Still, Costeley’s reading of the poetry enhances the rhetoric of the text. He employs imitation only sparingly, and he occasionally hints at the meaning of a word with a melodic gesture, as in the soprano’s leap at “Qui jusqu’au ciel mon esprit haussera” (“Who will raise my spirit up to heaven”). The musical refrain, which sometimes sets the text “Dessoubz le mai” but also bears other text, is reminiscent of a musical and poetic form current in the fifteenth century, the rondeau.
Si je languis (de Courville)
The Académie that Baïf and Joachim Thibault de Courville founded kept its music secret, and little of de Courville’s music has survived. From the few extant works by him, however, it is clear that his approach to setting measured verse was exemplary. Yet Si je languis is an exception: it employs long melismas (multiple notes for a single syllable of text) and ornamentation that is uncharacteristic of the musique mesurée style and is indeed more characteristic of music composed a half-century years later. It serves to demonstrate the very emotionally effective use of ornamentation in the late sixteenth century and has inspired us to apply period ornamentation to much simpler pieces on the program.
Ma belle si ton ame (Bataille)
Gabriel Bataille (ca. 1575 – 1630) began his professional life as a clerk in Paris and only later became a professional musician through his interest in the lute. By 1619, he was in service to Anne of Austria, Queen of France, and his sons continued in that capacity after his death. The lute in the sixteenth century was equivalent to the piano in the nineteenth: it was the principal instrument for amateur music-making in the home, and an enormously profitable industry grew up around printing arrangements for it. The arrangements involved tablature, a means of conveying the proper hand positions on the instrument’s fingerboard through graphic means rather than through standard musical notation. Such arrangements in tablature, known as intabulations, were primarily the purview of excellent lutenists. Bataille must have been just such a player; many arrangements of preexistent music bear his name. Ma belle si ton ame is one such arrangment: the melody was nearly a century old when Bataille penned his version, having begun its life in Italy as a song about a young girl given to a nunnery by her parents. The text of Bataille’s air is that of a conventional love song, and the simple, declamatory melody invites ornamentation.
La Bergere, Non legere; Qui veut chasser une migraine (Bataille)
The text of Bataille’s La Bergere, non lergere involves a venerable trope of medieval and Renaissance song: the lecherous shepherd pursuing a shepherdess. In many versions, the distressed shepherdess is rescued by a chivalrous knight, whose confrontation with the shepherd invariably ends with blows given and received. Here, however, the savior is nowhere to be seen, and we only hear the shepherd’s point of view. Musically, Bataille’s setting aims to present the shepherd in a rustic guise, with an uncomplicated, syllabic melody meant to match the patter of the text. Another venerable tradition, that of the drinking song, is represented in Bataille’s Qui veut chasser une migraine.
Chanton de Dieu les merveilles (Costeley)
Chanton de Dieu les merveilles is a simple, strophic chanson with an almost march-like rhythm. Its somewhat ominous text refers obliquely and derisively to the Protestant faith, illustrating the rising religious tensions in France that culminated in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572.
O mon amour (le Jeune)
Claude le Jeune (ca. 1528 – 1600) was probably raised in Valenciennes, in what is now the north of France but was then part of the Imperial Low Countries. He had probably settled in Paris by 1564, and he participated in Baïf’s Académie in the early 1570s and worked with the poet again in 1581 in conjunction with wedding ceremonies for the queen’s half-sister. In 1582, he entered the service of François, Duke of Anjou and the King’s brother, as master of the choirboys. Though his work is the most celebrated result of the Académie’s principles, most of it was not published during his lifetime, in part due to his Protestant faith. Le Jeune fled Paris during the siege of 1590 and was stopped at the town gate; only the intervention of his friend and fellow composer, Jacques Mauduit, a Catholic, saved his manuscripts from the fires of the Parisian militia. Le Jeune was eventually able to return to Paris and serve the royal court until his death. O mon amour is found in his posthumous Airs of 1608. Like most of Le Jeune’s musique mesurée settings, it alternates between verses and a refrain, sung alternately in three- and five-voice settings. The mostly homophonic texture is enlivened by gentle melismas, and the rhythmic alternation of groups of two and three rigorously conforms to the meter of the poetry.
Entrée de luthe; Courante; Bransle de Village (Ballard)
Robert Ballard (ca. 1575 – 1649) was a lutenist for the French court during most of the first half of the seventeenth century. His compositional output chiefly involved the intabulation of dance music, and these three works are examples of this genre. An entrée is a short piece of entrance music that divided the scenes of a ballet at court; a courante is a majestic triple-meter dance characterized by metric and rhythmic irregularities; and a bransle is an exuberant round dance.
Cessés mortels (Guédron)
Pierre Guédron (ca. 1564 – ca. 1621) succeeded Claude le Jeune in his position as a court composer, and his output consists principally of airs de cour to be sung at court. He was also an accomplished poet and composed many of his song texts. Cessés mortels consists of three separate sections, the first two of which are designed to repeat several strophes of text. The text is a meditation on a mortal woman whose beauty affords her godlike status, and though it conforms to many of the ideals of Baïf’s Académie, it also looks forward to the rhythmic freedom of later airs de cour.
Est-ce Mars (Guédron/Bataille)
Est-ce Mars was composed for the Ballet pour madame, a court entertainment for the queen, in 1613. Guédron’s four-voice version was intabulated by Gabriel Bataille, and it is his intabulation that we are performing. The text combines the image of Mars with that of Cupid, since the speaker is confusing the two, and the modest melody begins in decidedly martial fashion before relaxing in the third phrase on the text, “Yet every time his looks tell me that it is Cupid rather than Mars.” The light accompaniment and gentle melody would have appealed especially to amateur performers, for whom the work was eventually printed, and these also allow for substantial variation and ornamentation.
Eau vive, source d’amour (Mauduit)
The aristocratic Jacques Mauduit (1557 – 1627) succeeded de Courville as Baïf’s main collaborator in the Académie in 1581, and Eau vive is Baïf’s poem. Baïf’s rhythmic principles can be plainly heard in the simple melody: long syllables have long notes or a modest melisma, while short syllables are set to short note values. The melismas suggest the possibility that ornamentation was widely used on long notes, a practice we have adopted. The form of the work, with its recurring refrain or rechant, is essentially the same as that of le Jeune’s multi-voice musique mesurée works, many of which are settings of Baïf’s texts.
Enfin la beauté que j’adore (Moulinié)
The rhythmic patterns of Baïf’s texts are not present to the same degree in Enfin la beauté que j’adore; the work of Etienne Moulinié (ca. 1600 – after 1669) generally displays greater rhythmic freedom than that of his predecessors, suggesting that the rhythmic patterns that united the air de cour and multi-voice airs set as musique mesurée were gradually falling out of use. Moulinié was chiefly employed by Gaston d’Orléans, brother to King Louis XIII. His work includes compositions for many court entertainments, including ballet, and is largely for solo voice and continuo or lute accompaniment.
Je le confesse (le Jeune)
Le Jeune traditionally receives greater recognition than his Académie colleagues, in part because of the lively approach to Baïf’s rhythms and subtle melodic flourishes exemplified by works like Je le confesse. The text, with its address to Cupid as the Roman god of love, reflects classical themes of Antiquity blended with the courtly love of France, and Baïf’s rhythmic approach is enhanced by le Jeune’s brilliant sense of musical rhetoric. As in O mon amour, trios of voices alternate with a triumphant five-voice refrain.