About this Recording
8.573867 - Orchestral Music (Baroque) - LULLY, J.-B. / TELEMANN, G.P. / RAMEAU, J.-P. (The Lully Effect) (Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra, Kuijken)
English 

The Lully Effect: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687) • Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) • Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764)

 

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687) left his native Italy (Tuscany, to be exact) at the age of 13 to serve as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV’s cousin, the ‘Grande Mademoiselle’ Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans. Few composers would experience such a meteoric rise as Lully, who would, by the age of 28, be elevated to the post of Surintendant de la musique de la chambre du roi, accountable only to Louis XIV himself. Over the next 26 years he reigned as the most powerful musician in France, earning a place in history as well as numerous enemies in an environment where status and privilege were paramount. Although trained as a violinist and celebrated as a dancer, Lully’s historical importance lies in his creation of music for the Parisian stage, including ballet, and especially opera, which had just been invented a few decades earlier in Italy. Two movements from Armide (1686) are included here: the Ouverture, and a grand dance called a Passacaille, or set of variations over a recurring bass line, which is itself subject to variation. The character Armide is an enchantress who captures knights returning from the Crusades, rendering them helpless prisoners for her own amusement. The hero Renaud excites both her desire, because he’s so handsome and heroic, and her anger, because he manages to set all her other prisoners free, and therein lies Armide’s dilemma.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), though less well known today than his contemporary J.S. Bach, reigned as the most famous composer in Germany during the first half of the 18th century. He is also perhaps the most prolific composer ever, due to both his unusually long career (he died at 86 and was productive into very old age) and his indefatigable energy. Among his many overtures, or suites, the Suite in E minor is a relatively early work thought to have been composed before 1716, which would place Telemann in his Eisenach/Frankfurt period. The work opens with a French-style Ouverture, a style credited to Lully, which contrasts a weighty cut-time grave section with a sprightly section in triple time. (The best-known overture in the French style is to Handel’s oratorio Messiah.). Two of the subsequent movements the Menuet and the Hornpipe are stylised dance movements often found in suites, while Les Cyclopes refers to the one-eyed monster encountered by Odysseus and his men, and Galimatias means nonsensical things, or gibberish.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) is perhaps best known for his Traité de l’Harmonie (‘Treatise on Harmony’, 1722), a monumental and ground-breaking work in the realm of music theory which established the principles of modern functional harmony. Thanks to the help of a wealthy businessman patron, M. de la Pouplinière, Rameau would have the premier performance of his first published opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, in 1733 at the age of 50. Rameau would go on to achieve success composing more operas in a similar vein, that is to say, what the French would call not ‘operas’ but rather tragédie en musique, as well as other stage works in the genres of ballet, pastorale, opéra-ballet and opéra comique. Dardanus premiered at the Académie de musique in 1739, enjoying a run of 26 performances. It is based on the character Dardanus, the son of Zeus and the Pleiad Electra. The mythology surrounding Dardanus is that he left his home in Arcadia, the pleasant graves in the mountainous Peloponnesus of Greece, and eventually, after a number of adventures, became the founder of the royal house of Troy. It is through this association with Troy, and its prince Aeneas, that Dardanus is seen as an ancestor of Rome, whose founder was, so Virgil’s Aeneid tells us, Aeneas. The action in Rameau’s Dardanus centres around one of the title character’s adventures: his war with King Teucer, whose daughter Iphise, already promised by her father to King Anténor, is secretly carrying on with Dardanus. All turns out well, as peace is ultimately attained and Iphise and Dardanus marry.

Thomas Gerber

This recording is the realisation of a long-cherished dream. I have always been fascinated by French Baroque music, with its peculiar balance of grandeur and finesse, etiquette and freedom, restraint and expression, elegance and majesty, decor and dancing, declamation and singing, symmetry and diversity, clarity and intricate ornamentation. However, whereas the French Baroque solo and chamber music was mostly written down with great care and detail, its typical style and extensive ornamentation clearly explained by numerous French treatises and descriptions, the orchestral music fared less well. Indeed, the compositions of Lully and his followers look disappointingly simple (not to say simplistic), with the occasional inevitable trill as sole ornament—in striking contrast not only to the contemporary chamber and solo music but also to all other art forms and genres of the Louis XIV–XV era. I could never understand how Lully’s compositions, performed as they stand, could have had such a profound impact on European music history. Did this quite sketchy, bare and neutral-sounding music really have the power to take the world by storm, was this the music that so many European kings or princes wanted to hear and to impress their visitors with in their Versailles-styled palaces?

In this recording, I want to paint another picture, in keeping with the overall artistic ideas. A first source of inspiration are the contemporary transcriptions of Lully’s orchestral pieces for solo harpsichord, such as those made by Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1629–1691). These transmit highly ornamented versions which could very well reflect the actual performance style quite faithfully. Further crucial evidence comes from Georg Muffat (1653–1704), a German who had studied with Lully for many years. He gives extremely detailed instructions about the general style and about the specific bowing technique the string players should adopt. These bowing conventions are very different from modern usage and provide a crisp, very rhythmical and highly articulated declamation. This effect is enhanced even more by the many different ornaments which, according to Muffat and in accordance with d’Anglebert’s transcriptions, any well-trained musician would have known to add to Lully’s simple-looking notation. These ornaments often have the function of consonances in speech; they vary the beginnings of the vowels (or of the syllables) or link them to each other. The result is a much more understandable and emotionally far richer performance of these remarkable compositions. In recent times, Muffat’s bowings have sometimes been put into practice, but this application of ornaments—almost never, and then mostly only in the top melody part, whereas Muffat explicitly wants them in all parts. Learning this new, unheard language was very exciting for all of us as performers. I hope it is as exciting to the listener, being able to truly connect this music to the lavish splendour of Versailles.

Telemann’s name might astonish in this French context, but we should not forget that Lully’s style was imitated and adapted throughout Europe. In the German-speaking countries, French inspiration is found with Muffat, Fischer, Fux, Kusser, Pez, Telemann, J.S. Bach and his cousins Johann Ludwig and Georg Michael. In England, Purcell and Handel adopted and adapted it, and sometimes even Italian composers such as Corelli, Vivaldi or Veracini are seen to include Lullian elements.

The Telemann Suite we record here is an early work (c. 1716); it stands so close to Lully’s tradition, that I wanted to apply the same basic approach to it as in Lully’s late work, the Ouverture and Passacaille from the opera Armide of 1686. In France, even after Lully’s death, his compositions continued to function as the fertile soil upon which composers such as Marais, Campra, Leclair and Rameau could develop their own style. This process seems to have been much more a—rather slow—evolution than a revolution. Consequently, I did not hesitate to apply Muffat’s principles of bowings and ornamentation also to the Rameau suite. It is interesting to notice, however, that as time goes on, the ornamentation seems to become less omnipresent and more standardised. Simultaneously, the number of middle parts is reduced from three to two, each of them becoming increasingly specific, melodic and individual.

The orchestral forces

The peculiar sound balance of the French orchestra of those days is well documented. Whereas in the opera house the orchestra would have been quite big in order to fill the space. Here, we have opted for a smaller setting, as could have happened in any private chateau, but we kept the proportions between the different instruments alike. In the opera repertoire, up to and including Rameau, there is only one violin part, executed by many performers (here up to four) and often doubled by all flutes or oboes. The three middle parts (often only two parts after c. 1700) were all played on violas, but in much smaller numbers (here consequently one to a part) and not doubled by any winds. The relative weakness of the viola parts in the tutti sections is thus not the consequence of bad engineering or microphone placement, but a deliberate choice, respecting the tradition of that repertoire! The bass part was very strong again, played by about the same number of performers as the top part, with bassoons doubling the string basses (we used three string basses besides the harpsichord and bassoon). In Lully’s compositions, there is no 16-foot double bass, since this instrument was introduced in the opera only around 1700. When the texture changes from five to three parts, the violas do not play and the top part splits into two dessus parts, often played by solo violins, flutes or oboes. The basso continuo would then be given to harpsichord and string bass, or could be played by one viola alone.

Barthold Kuijken


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