This disc is devoted to music which was written in France during the
decades around 1600. These years saw the reigns of Henry IV (1553-1610) and
Louis XIII (1601-1643). At this time the foundations were laid for the
musical splendour which was so much part of the reign of Louis XIV. Pierre
Guédron played an important part in the development of musical
entertainment at court. In 1590 Henry IV reorganized the musical
establishment, and Guédron was appointed maître des
chanteurs de la chambre
. In 1601 he succeeded Claude Le Jeune as
compositeur de la chambre du roi
. Other posts were added to that in
the ensuing years. He was widely admired as a singer, teacher and composer.
His oeuvre comprises a number of ballets and many airs de cour
were published in five books between 1608 and 1620. The last book was
published under the supervision of his son-in-law Antoine Boësset which
suggests that Guédron must have died in 1620 or the previous year.
Unfortunately some of these books have been survived only in part.
The airs de cour
were for four to five voices, and many of
them were originally composed to be performed as part of the ballets which
were an important type of musical entertainment. Some of them were arranged
later for solo voice and lute, and this is the form which was to become one
of the main genres during the 17th century. Such songs were not only
performed at court but also in the salons of the aristocracy. Guédron
can be considered the father of the style of singing which was to become
dominant in France during the baroque era. It reflects the restraint which
was a feature of the culture at court and in aristocratic circles. The early
decades of the 17th century saw the rise of monody and opera in Italy. In
France "taste" was the name of the game, and was often opposed to the
Italian style which was considered "excessive". This should be taken into
account as far as the performance practice is concerned.
One of the main aspects of the performance of this repertoire is
ornamentation. Singers - who often accompanied themselves on the lute - were
expected to add ornaments, according to the text and its affects. Moreover,
audiences also required some vocal virtuosity, but always within the
boundaries of good taste. As Georgie Durosoir explains in the liner-notes
this causes considerable problems for the modern interpreter. His or her
task is made even harder because there are no treatises from this time which
give information about the kind of ornamentation which was used.
Claudine Ansermet specialises in the performance of this repertoire.
The result is quite remarkable. She adds quite a lot of ornaments, and
brings a great variety to the task. Within a single song she uses a varied
array. This is certainly inspired by the texts, and that makes it all the
more regrettable that the booklet omits English translations of the lyrics.
Those who don't understand French or have only a limited knowledge of the
language are doomed to miss much of the connection between text and music
and between the content of these airs and the way they are interpreted.
Even so, I highly commend this disc. The music is of great beauty:
every single air is a gem. Some lovers of early music may recognize a couple
of the songs, such as Cessés mortels de soupirer
and - one of
the most famous of Guédron's songs - Quel espoir de guarir
These were recorded decades ago by Nigel Rogers. Claudine Ansermet sings
them brilliantly: her breath control is impressive in those songs which are
technically demanding. She also has no problems with the wide tessitura
which some of the songs require: her voice is clear and flexible in all
ranges. She uses historical pronunciation, and must have been one of the
first to do so. Paolo Cherici delivers fine and sensitive accompaniments.
Almost every air is preceded by a prelude for lute. The booklet gives no
information about the composers. Nicolas Vallet and Robert Ballard are quite
well-known but Elias Mertel is known hardly at all. He was of German origin
and worked most of his life in Strasbourg. Only one collection of music is
known, and this contains no fewer than 235 preludes. It is not certain,
though, whether they are his work as no composer's name is given. This is a
fact which should have been mentioned in the booklet.
The present disc was originally released in the late 1990s, probably
at the Italian label Symphonia. Discs of that label didn't find wide
dissemination, and there is a good chance that you have missed this one.
This reissue offers the opportunity to make up for lost time. Grab it.
Johan van Veen
Nicolas VALLET (1575-c1642)
Cessés mortels de soupirer
Un jour l'amoureuse Silvie
Elias MERTEL (c1560-1626)
Quel espoir de guarir
Doncques par force
Robert BALLARD (1575-c.1648)
Première entrée de luth
Soupirs meslés d'amour
Je voudrois bien chanter
Cinquiesme entrée de luth
C'en est fait je ne verray plus
Lors que Leandre amoureux
Antoine FRANCISQUE (1570-1605)
Quel excès de douleur
Aux plaisirs, aux delices bergeres
En fin le juste Ciel
Ce penser qui sans fin
Quand premier je la veis
Quoy? faut-il donc qu'Amour
Si jamais mon ame blessée
Donc ceste merveille des cieux