The French Baroque

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Program: #19-08   Air Date: Feb 11, 2019

Jordi Savall shares dance music of Rebel, Les Arts Florissants and the “petits motets” of Lully, and the gamba of Antoine Forqueray.

I. Terpsichore: Apothéose de la Danse baroque (Les Concerts des Nations/Jordi Savall). Alia Vox CD ASVA 9929.

Terpsichore - Apotheosis of Baroque Dance Product Image
“Dance is the mother of the arts. Music and poetry exist in time, painting and architecture in space. But the dance lives at once in time and space. Rhythmical patterns of time and the organization of space are things that man created by means of the dance in his own body before he used stone and the word to give expression to his emotions.”

Curt Sachs, Introduction to World History of Dance, 1938

Long before it became an essential form of human corporal expression, dance had already been present in most organized societies from the dawn of the history of mankind. The earliest traces depicting the execution of dances are to be found in prehistoric times, in the Palaeolithic, when the existence of primitive dances was recorded in cave paintings.

In the majority of cultures in prehistoric times, dance was above all a feature of ceremonies and rites, often addressed to a higher being and acted as a channel of communication with the ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods. In conjunction with chants and music, it probably also enabled participants to enter into a state of trance, whose various purposes included warding off ill fortune, summoning courage before battle or the hunt, or as a cure for the bite of a venomous snake (the “tarantella”, for example, was used to remedy the effects of the terrible sting of the tarantula spider).

Combined with music, dance very soon became a language of communication and collective or individual artistic expression, indispensable in most celebration ceremonies, especially in the cycles of social life and its rituals, to mark adolescence, adulthood and marriage; in healing dances, personal celebrations and as an entertainment. It also figured in the cycles of religious and spiritual life: religious celebrations (the Sarabande, danced in the processions of 16th century Spain), pilgrims’ dances (the dance of death in the 14th century), dances as an expression of worship (in pagan rituals) and prayers (dances in honour of the Virgin Mary Llibre Vermell de Montserrat).

It was during the Middle Ages that the earliest musical sources of religious dances such as the ball rodó, or circle dance, and the dance of death contained in the mss. of the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, and the first musical and choreographic sources of profane dances, such as the basses dances included in the 15th century Cervera manuscript, and above all in the stampite of the Italian Trecento manuscript conserved in the British Museum. It was at the various courts of the Italian peninsula in the 15th century, which at that time were divided into numerous small states, that the first “dancing masters” appeared, teaching not only dance, but also the rules of social etiquette. A fine example of those early traditions at the beginning of the Renaissance (1450) is conserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France: the manuscript De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi by Domenico da Piacenza, which is regarded as one of the earliest known treatises. Piacenza’s disciples Guglielmo Ebreo and Antonio Cornazzano transmitted and developed his art in the principal Italian cities, where they were employed by the Sforzas, Isabella d’Este and other nobles. The Italian dancer and researcher (and my very dear friend) Andrea Francalanci (1949-1993) – with whom we staged a magnificent production incorporating16th century dances at the Early Music Festival of Utrecht (1990), was the first to reconstruct the choreographies of the period, as well as the ballets from Monteverdi’s operas.

From the second half of the 15th century, when European culture was experiencing the impact of the discovery of Ancient Greek and Roman civilisation (which was to inspire the great flourishing of all the arts and thought known as the Renaissance), the new fashion spread rapidly through France and the majority of European courts. But it would be another hundred years before the first printed sources of collections of Danceries, such as Musique de Joye, were printed at Lyon by Jacques Moderne c.1550.

Some years later, a number of changes and major new departures occurred on the occasion of the various great celebrations held at the court of the kings of France: that of Henry IV at Fontainebleau, in 1601, to celebrate the birth of the Dauphin, in 1610 to mark the coronation of King Louis XIII, and in 1615 to celebrate Louis’s marriage. These events led to the creation of the blueprint for the Baroque orchestra (bringing together old instruments such as flutes, cornets, sackbuts, trumpets, violas da gamba, lutes, etc., and new instruments such as violins and the other instruments of the da braccio family, transverse flutes, large oboes, bassoons, harpsichords, organs, etc.) It was also at the court of Louis XIII that in 1628 the ensemble known as “the King’s 24 Violins and Large Oboes” performed the first concert by a typically Baroque orchestra.

In 17th century terms, the title of our recording should in fact read “Apotheosis of the Belle Danse”, as the word “baroque”, originally derived from a 16th century Portuguese word, was only used at that time by the pearl industry – as it still is by jewellers today – to refer to a kind of pearl which was not round, but irregular in shape. As Eugénia Roucher so aptly points out in her illuminating study “La Belle Danse ou le classicisme français au sein de l’univers baroque”, it was only in the mid-18th century that it began to be applied to furniture and works of art. In the field of music, however, it was apparently Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, André Campra’s librettist, who first used the term “baroque” (with reference to Rameau’s Dardanus): “Distillers of baroque chords / With which so many fools are smitten, / Take your overstuffed operas / To the Thracians and the Iroquois”, (quoted by Philippe Beaussant in Musical). And it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of most of the articles devoted to music in the Encyclopédie, who wrote in 1776: “Baroque music is that in which the harmony is confused, charged with modulations and dissonances, in which the intonation is difficult and the movement constrained.” He surely had in mind the music of his sworn enemy Rameau!

The programme for this recording focuses on the celebration of “Dance in the Baroque world” through two great 18th century composers: the Frenchman Jean-Féry Rebel and the German Georg Philipp Telemann.

Jean-Féry Rebel


Of all the Rebel dynasty, from whose ranks musicians served the king and the orchestra of the Opera for more than a century, Jean-Féry was the most famous, thanks to one of his most remarkable works, a veritable symphonic poem entitled Les Eléments: “simphonie nouvelle” of 1737, a work that we recorded in our CD-tribute to the Earth Tempêtes & Orages (AVSA9914). In 1700, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music, first as a violinist and, seventeen years later, as principal director of the Opera orchestra, thus acquiring a profound knowledge of dance and descriptive symphonies. Our recording aims to present all his principal works in the world of dance and choreographed symphonies. La Terpsichore (1720), which opens our programme and provides the title for this CD, is a masterpiece which constitutes a veritable apotheosis of the Dance. In Les Caractères de la Danse of 1715Rebel tried his hand at the goûts réunis (the Tastes – French and Italian – reconciled), including two sonata movements composed in a more Italianising style. The result was a highly inspired work, perhaps intended for Mlle. Prévost but which later served to showcase the talent of the young Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo, who danced it for the first time on 5th May, 1726, “with all the vivaciousness and intelligence one would expect from a young dancer fifteen or sixteen years old” (Mercure). Our selection is completed by the charming pastoral work Les plaisirs champêtres (1724) and the powerfully majestic Fantaisie (1729), both works which take the form of a grand “choreographed symphony”, whose various component parts are combined and linked in a single comprehensive dance movement. Thanks to his experience at the Opera and the Royal Academy of Music, as well as his own musical genius, Rebel created the first and most beautiful choreographed symphonies on dance, which were to remain as a vibrant testimony to the powerful imagination and inventiveness of a musician who is essential to our understanding of the richness and exuberance of Baroque dance.

More information about Rebel can be found in the article by Catherine Cessac reproduced in the notes accompanying this CD, which provides us with an in-depth introduction to the life and work of a composer who has been neglected for far too long.

Georg Philipp Telemann

Of all the great European composers of the Baroque period, Georg Philipp Telemann was from his youth and throughout his life the one who was most deeply committed to French music and composed the largest volume of music in the French style.

The young Georg Philipp attended the Altstädtisches Gymnasium and the Magdeburg Cathedral school, where he received instruction in Latin, rhetoric, German poetry and dialectics. The German, French and Latin verse that he wrote and published later in his life bear witness to his vast general knowledge, which was enhanced by his command of Italian and English, which he continued to speak into old age.

At that time, public concerts were as yet unknown in Magdeburg, and so it was the secular music played at school, in particular, the Altstädtisches Gymnasium, where music was regularly performed, which acquainted him with secular music, in addition to religious music, and which played a key role in the musical education of the city.

Telemann soon showed a great talent for music and from the age of ten began to compose his first pieces, often in secret, using borrowed instruments. He owed his earliest known musical experiences to his kantor Benedikt Christiani. After only a few weeks of instruction in singing, he was able to replace his teacher in the more advanced classes. Urged by his mother to abandon his musical career, in 1701 Telemann enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study Law. However, the choice of the city of Leipzig, at that time the capital of modern music, can hardly have been a matter of chance. On his way to Leipzig, Telemann stopped off at Halle to meet George Frederick Handel, then aged sixteen. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

Telemann made two trips to Berlin, and in 1704, he was invited to succeed Wolfgang Caspar Printz as Kapellmeister at the court of Count Erdmann II von Promnitz at Sorau (actually Żary) in Silesia. Now aged 23, he took the opportunity during his time there to study and perform the works of Lully and Campra, a repertory on which he thereafter drew extensively for inspiration. In October 1709 Telemann married Amalie Luise Juliane Eberlin, a lady-in-waiting at the court of Countess von Promnitz.

However, it was thanks to his time spent at Hanover and Wolfenbüttel, where French music was played much more often than that of other countries, that he was able to further his knowledge of the French repertory, which led to his impassioned composition of numerous “Ouvertures/Suites à la française” (to date, more than two hundred such pieces by the composer are known) and to his becoming a true champion of this musical genre in Germany.

When he travelled with the court to Cracow and Pszczyna, he came to appreciate Polish and Moravian folk music, which he encountered both at the inns where he lodged and in public performances. Perhaps because he was seeking new challenges, or perhaps so that he would not need to depend on the aristocracy, Telemann sought a new position in Frankfurt, where in February 1712 he was appointed the city’s director of music.

In 1714 (three years after the death of his first wife), he married Maria Katharina Textor. In the years that followed, he published his first compositions. On a trip to Gotha in 1716, Duke Frederick II of Saxe-Gotha offered him the post of Kapellmeister.

In 1721 he arrived in Hamburg, where he was appointed to a lifelong position as music director of the city’s five principal churches. His fame is attested by the city of Leipzig’s offer of the post of kantor at St. Thomas’s church and school, a position which he did not accept and which was subsequently taken up by his friend Johann Sebastian Bach.

At the age of 56, he undertook his only major tour, travelling in the autumn of 1737 to Paris, where he remained for eight months as a guest of the city’s foremost virtuosi. When he left for Paris, a leading Hamburg newspaper announced that Telemann was going to report on “the current state” of French music, “which he had made so fashionable in Germany.” Telemann received an enthusiastic welcome in Paris and several of his works, notably the great Psalm 71, were performed in his honour at court and at the “Concert spirituel” series of public concerts. The most illustrious French virtuosi – the flautist Blavet, the violinist Guignon, the violist Forqueray and the cellist Édouard – gave concert performances of his quatuors.

Finding that his quadri (Paris Quartets) had been published there in a better quality edition than the original, he sought and obtained a royal publishing privilege for a period of twenty years. A second series of quadri was published under the title of Nouveaux Quatuors no. 7 – 12. These works, performed by the leading instrumentalists of the day, earned the composer widespread admiration.

As Carl de Nys observes, “In his long correspondence with Graun (1751-1752), Telemann favours the ‘Ramiste’ (that is, Rameau’s) style of recitative; the terms he uses to describe French music also define his own compositions: ‘a subtle imitation of nature.’ And, even as a young man, Telemann found in his practice of French music one of the main sources of inspiration in his pursuit of constant renewal in harmony and form.”

Proof of that inspiration are the two magnificent Ouvertures/Suite – the Ouverture-Suite in G Major, “La Bizarre”, for string orchestra and bass continuo and the Ouverture-Suite in B flat major (1733) in his “Table Music” (Part III, No. 1, TWV 55:B1) for 2 Oboes, 2 solo Violins, string orchestra & Bass continuo with which we have chosen to complete the present recording.

  1.  La Terpsicore, ballet

    1. Grave  (00:12)
    2. Viste: Bruit  (00:21)
    3. Grave  (00:12)
    4. Gay  (00:55)
    5. Première sicilienne: Rondeau  (01:33)
    6. 2e Rondeau  (01:15)
    7. L'angloise: Gigue (Gay)  (02:44)
  2. Les Caractères de la danse, ballet

    1. Prélude  (00:43)
    2. Courante  (00:28)
    3. Menuet  (00:18)
    4. Bourrée  (00:22)
    5. Chaconne  (00:49)
    6. Sarabande  (00:33)
    7. Gigue  (00:25)
    8. Rigaudon  (00:14)
    9. Passepied  (00:22)
    10. Gavotte  (00:27)
    11. Sonate  (00:37)
    12. Loure  (00:13)
    13. Musette  (02:02)
    14. Sonate  (01:21)
  3. Overture: La Bizarre, suite for string & continuo in G major, TWV 55:G2

    1. Ouverture  (05:43)
    2. Courante  (01:50)
    3. Gavotte en rondeau  (01:42)
    4. Branle  (01:57)
    5. Sarabande  (01:33)
    6. Fantaisie  (01:16)
    7. Menuet I & II  (03:00)
    8. Rossignol  (01:37)
  4. Les Plaisirs champêtres, for ensemble

    1. Musette  (00:57)
    2. Gavotte  (01:38)
    3. Musette  (00:23)
    4. Chaconne  (02:48)
    5. Passepied  (01:34)
    6. Bourée  (01:19)
    7. Rigaudon  (00:51)
    8. Bourée  (01:25)
  5. La Fantaisie, ballet

    1. Grave  (01:28)
    2. Chaconne  (01:24)
    3. Mineur  (00:39)
    4. Majeur  (01:06)
    5. Loure  (01:26)
    6. Tambourin deux fois entières  (00:59)
    7. Chaconne  (01:31)
  6. Overture, suite for 2 oboes, 2 violins, strings & continuo in B flat major (Tafelmusik III/1), TWV 55:B1

    1. Ouverture: Lentement, Presto  (05:38)
    2. Bergerie (un peu vivement)  (02:40)
    3. Allégresse (vite)  (02:50)
    4. Postillons  (02:11)
    5. Flaterie  (03:08)
    6. Badinage (très vite)  (02:56)
    7. Menuet  (02:45)
    8. Conclusion: Furioso  (01:56)

II. Lully: Petits motets (Les Arts Florissants/William Christie). Harmonia Mundi CD HAF 8901274.

Petits Motets

From Gramophone:  Despite the familiarity of Lully's name and his reputation, much of his finest music is still largely unknown to us. This recording is a treasure trove of sacred chamber music: petits motets for three voices—most often three sopranos, since the music was composed for the renowned singers of the Paris convent of the Filles de l'Assomption—and continuo. The music is deeply rooted in the Italian style of Carissimi (also the inspiration of Charpentier, whom the expatriate American William Christie and his ensemble of musicians have already so eloquently and stylishly championed). The texts are set in shapely phrases, extended by suspensions and sequences, and couched in ravishing harmonies. The Salve regina contains some of the most beautiful music on the disc.

The singers of Les Arts Florissants, especially the sopranos, are accomplished stylists, nurtured as they are by one whose mastery is consummate; their diction and command of the rhetoric are a joy: witness the poignancy of the final lines of the Laudate pueri. The violinist Frederic Martin projects the right degree of expressiveness in the ritournelles of the Omnes gentes and (CD) sapientia, and the continuo players—particularly Christie—offer a delicate and tasteful accompaniment. Christie's feeling for tempo and the subtleties of Lully's metre is formidable; the momentum he achieves, particularly in the Laudate pueri and Exaudi Deus, is in its way thrilling. His playing (on an organ whose registration beautifully complements the music) provides the spark needed to ignite the performances and the support to ensure that the flame burns brightly throughout.
These illuminating performances, like his Harmonia Mundi recording of Atys compel us to reconsider the traditional view of Lully as a brilliant entrepreneur who also composed some music: it is clear from records like these that he yields nothing in inspiration to Charpentier and indeed merits the supremacy accorded him by his adopted countrymen.’

1 Omnes gentes   9'11

2 Regina coeli   4'02

3 O sapientia   4'46

4 Laudate pueri   7'29

5 Salve Regina   8'02

6 Exaudi Deus   5'08

7 Anima Christi   5'45

8 Ave coeli   3'34

9 Dixit Dominus   7'12

10 O dulcissime   6'30

11 Domine salvum regem   1'56


III. Les Défis de Monsieur Forqueray. Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902330.

Les Défis de Monsieur Forqueray Product Image


Lucile Boulanger, Viola da gamba, Pierre Gallon, Cembalo, Claire Gautrot, Viola da gamba, Romain Falik, Theorbo.

From Classical review: This one is something special. Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745), a French Baroque composer and Viola da Gamba master, is the center of this fascinating album. Lucie Boulanger chose pieces which this rather forgotten figure either played or composed. Some are transcribed from violin to Viola da Gamba, other written specifically for the Viola.

The opening bars of the sonata by Michele Mascitti, which opens the album, one can only describe as seductive: The depth, long line and beauty of tone is just that irresistible. Boulanger projects well the contrasts of this Sonata, with lively fast movements and serene slow ones.

Jean-Marie Leclair’s Violin Sonata Op.9 No. 2 will make many listeners want to hear some more of this composer, especially after another very well received release by Fabio Biondi last year, playing Violin Concertos by this important figure. This sonata is a rarity in the catalogue and makes a stunning introduction – listen how beautiful is the opening andante (a true manifestation of the “dolce” instruction if I ever heard one) or how subtle the phrasing and ornamentation are in the third Sarabande movement.

The Sonata Op. 5, No. 3 by Corelli can be subjected to real record comparison: There is a very successful account of the Op. 5 Sonatas by Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr with the intended instrument and on the same label, a more uncomfortable version by the Kuijiken brothers and a “classic” version by Arthur Grumiaux, the only one playing a modern instrument. The comparison is a fascinating one; Yes, there is the transcription for Viola da Gamba from the original Violin manuscript, which makes the basso-continuo more naturally integrated with the soloist. But there is also a unique approach in its own right. The second movement Allegro, for one, is a high spirited dance-like affair, and the Adagio, unlike on any of the other versions, is presented bare, without the accompaniment of either one of the three accompanists.

It’s worth mentioning the outstanding Continuo group we have here (Clair Gautrot, Romain Falik, Pierre Gallon), which time and again give their full-hearted support to their charismatic soloist, with little individual touches here and there – Listen for instance how the bass is giving its weight in the final movement of the Corelli Sonata (1:50), in order to emphasize this dramatic episode.

Antoine Forqueray (©️Wikipedia)

The main and longest piece in this album, the Fourth Suite by Forsqueray, is represented on record, but plainly speaking, I know of no other better performance. Atsushi Sakaï’s dedicated complete account of the entire suites on Aparté sounds pale in comparison. Once again, Boulanger opts for solo playing in the Thirds Sarabande movement, to chilling effect (Cembalist Pierre Gallon also goes solo in the previous, second movement). These two solo renditions make the following “La Bournonville. Mouvement élevé” movement, well, elevating. And the group can dance as well; Listen to the outburst of the earthy rhythmic energy in the last movement of this suite (from 2:30).

These contrasts here and in the rest of this marvelous suite move from the dramatic, energetic, tense and playful to the profound, thoughtful and atmospheric, giving us a true journey through this music, providing a good case for Forqueray the composer as well as the genius violist he must have been.

Superb album, then, packed with great music at 76 minutes, presented with a good background information and an exemplary recording quality, on par with Harmonia Mundi’s best. Highly recommended.

Michele MASCITTI (1664?-1760)
Sonate II a Violino solo, opus 1 
Extr. Libro primo, 1704
I. Adagio
II. Allegro (fuga)
III. Largo
IV. Allemanda
V. Giga. Allegro

Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745)
La Leclair - Très vivement et détaché
Extr. Deuxième Suite, en Sol majeur / G major

Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764)
Sonate II pour violon seul
Extr. Quatrième Livre, 1743
I. Andante dolce
II. Allemanda
III. Sarabanda
IV. Minuetto

Mr DE VISÉE (1660 ?-1733 ?)
Muzette de Mr. Fourcroy mise par Mr de Visée

Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)
Sonata III, op. 5
I. Adagio
II. Allegro
III. Adagio
IV. Allegro
V. Allegro

Quatrième Suite, en sol mineur / G minor
La Marella - Vivement et marqué
La Clément - Noblement et détaché
La D'Aubonne - Sarabande

La Bournonville - Mouvement élevé
La Sainscy - Gracieusement et avec esprit
Le Carillon de Passy - Légèrement sans vitesse
La Latour - D'un mouvement un peu plus vite que la précédente pièce

Jean-Baptiste (-Antoine) FORQUERAY (1699-1782)
La Morangis ou La Plissay - Mouvement de chaconne
Extr. Troisième Suite, en Ré majeur / D major

Composer Info

Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Lully, Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745), Michele MASCITTI (1664?-1760), Jean-Marie LECLAIR (1697-1764), Mr DE VISÉE (1660 ?-1733 ?), Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713), Jean-Baptiste (-Antoine) FORQUERAY (1699-1782)

CD Info

Alia Vox CD ASVA 9929, Harmonia Mundi CD HAF 8901274, Harmonia Mundi CD HMM 902330