About this Recording
8.573814 - Chamber Music (Baroque) - COUPERIN, F. / HOTTETERRE, J.-M. / LULLY, J.-B. / MARAIS, M. / MONTÉCLAIR, M.P. de (Inner Chambers) (Les Ordinaires)
English 

Inner Chambers
Royal Court Music of Louis XIV

 

Introduction

Musical life at the court of Louis XIV was highly ritualised and filled with dazzling formal public displays. However, the Sun King also enjoyed music in his more private spheres. This debut album reveals the intimate sound world that Louis XIV embraced in his inner chambers at the Palaces of Versailles and Fontainebleau. The music reflects the court’s aesthetic preferences: lavish display of ornaments and affluence paired with strict hierarchies, love of allegory, and an affected nostalgia for pastoral life and antiquity. This recording explores the depths of human emotion that Baroque art sought to express in all its many shades and subtleties, couched within the formal and mannered style of the French Baroque period.

Les Ordinaires’ historically informed interpretation features traverso, viola da gamba and theorbo, which together were known as the Royal Trio. Many fine musicians played for the king’s private enjoyment and received the distinguished appointment of Les Ordinaires du Roi (‘The King’s Ordinaries’), but it was the softly expressive combination of the trio that was called upon to provide music in the king’s private apartments and to accompany his official retirement-to-bed ceremony. The Chaconne that ends this recording is taken from Trios pour le Coucher du Roi (‘Trios for the King’s Bedtime Ritual’).

At the low French Baroque pitch of A=392Hz, this recording features replicas of Baroque instruments whose timbres invoke the especially rich and languishing character of this expressive music.

The Works

Concerts in the 18th century frequently began with a prelude, which gave the musicians an opportunity to warm up their instruments as the audience gathered. These preludes were often improvised or had an improvisatory quality. The Prelude in D major that opens this recording is from Jacques Hotteterre’s L’Art de préluder sur la flûte traversière (‘The Art of Preluding on the Flute’). In the manual, Hotteterre teaches his pupils step by step how to improvise or write a prelude in various keys, and ends with two preludes composed by the author. As one of the king’s employed chamber musicians, Hotteterre was well respected both as a flautist and composer.

The French Suite was a very popular musical form which was typically comprised of several dance movements including Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, Gigue and Menuet, among others. Each dance has its own steps, ornamentation, and character. Choreography manuscript sources and detailed descriptions provide clues to how these popular court dances might have been danced and guide our understanding of the character, gesture, and rhythmic structure in each of the dance movements. François Couperin’s Premier Concert was composed as only treble and bass lines for unspecified instruments, a common practice at the time, perhaps in an effort to sell more copies of the printed score. This piece in our trio setting reflects the historical fluidity in choice of instrumentation around 1700.

Rochers, je ne veux point is part of a collection of well-known airs that Hotteterre arranged for flute. In the 17th century, it was fashionable for a singer, accompanied by lute or theorbo, to sing airs and brunettes primarily about unrequited love, typically in allegorical and pastoral settings. Around 1721, as Ardal Powell describes in his book, The Flute, new collections of these airs and brunettes began popping up, this time with the indication that they could be played on a solo flute or as a flute duo, and often included highly ornamented variations of the melody called doubles. Composers such as Hotteterre, Montéclair, and later Blavet masterfully followed this 17th-century vocal practice of writing idiomatic doubles for some airs in their collections. We are indebted to the work of David Lasocki and Peter Holman for their work on pairing bass lines from the original airs de cour with Hotteterre’s solo flute parts. (See Ornamented Airs and Brunettes: Nova Music, 1980.)

Marin Marais’ Suite from the third book of Pièces de viole features the viola da gamba, a favourite instrument of the French upper class. According to Hubert Le Blanc in Défense de la basse de viole, the viola da gamba was known as one of the most voice-like instruments. Its ability to evoke melancholy and poignancy was highly valued in moving the passions of the listener. Marais specifies using lute and theorbo as the ideal accompaniment for the viola da gamba. With its expressive dynamic and articulatory flexibility, the theorbo combines the range of a treble instrument with the fundamental bass tones of a continuo instrument. Marais was notorious for his meticulous ornamentation and expression markings. In the Suite, Marais gives the performer special direction on expressive bow strokes and emphasis. Today, Marais’ detailed and plentiful ornamentation opens a window of discovery guiding research and insight into performing all French Baroque music. Musicians were expected to employ their sense of le bon goût (‘good taste’), both in executing the indicated ornaments and adding additional improvised ornaments.

French aristocracy prized the dichotomy of inner turmoil with an outward facade of calm and poise. This aesthetic struggle can be seen in the text painting in Baroque airs. As in the case of Michel Pignolet de Montéclair’s Brunetes anciènes et modernes, collections of airs often included the text so that the flautist could convey the expression of the poetry (see page 5). The ornamentation underscores the emotion of the text. Montéclair’s ornamentation of the air Je sens naître en mon coeur adds trills to the melody on the word sens (‘feel’). The intricate turning line is like a heart fluttering. The ornaments make the melodic statement more emphatic, as if saying the words with an exclamation point the second time around. Another example of Montéclair’s clever use of ornamentation is his choice of downward leaps to paint the effect of the command to detourner (‘avert’) Climene’s eyes from the speaker. This inner emotion is present in the under layer of music, while the listener hears the outer layer of a simple and beautiful air.

In his Deuxième Concert, Montéclair takes the listener through a journey of different senses. From the stately Allemande to the more raucous second Rondeau, this piece includes the unusual depiction of a street grinder (Le Rémouleur) selling his knife and scissor sharpening services. In this movement, Montéclair uses the bass tones of the harpsichord, or in our case, theorbo, to express the foot pedalling which turns the wheel. The viola da gamba plays the role of the wheel turning with its repetitive circular pattern. The flute has a dual role; it is both the song of the street grinder calling out his services ‘Le Ré-mou-leur!’ and the hissing grating sound of metal on metal in the sharpening process using the ornament flattement (‘finger vibrato’). This playful scene is juxtaposed with the introspective Plainte, a popular type of movement that has a similar improvisatory character as a prelude, but with the relentless and wistful quality of a lugubrious dirge.

Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Chaconne from Trios de la Chambre ‘pour le Coucher du Roi’ was composed specifically for the king’s formal retirement-to-bed ritual and is one of the finest examples of how the repetitive strophes of a chaconne could lull the listener into a sense of peace and tranquillity. Joined by a violin playing the second melody line and coming after the substantial and weighty Montéclair Suite in C minor, this Chaconne in C major is like a ray of sunlight for the weary. In a time of social turmoil and political division, it is my hope that this recording moves the passions of the listeners, allows for the ebb and flow of emotions, and creates a sense of inner stillness and peace.

Leela Breithaupt


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