Rameau and the Fabulous French Baroque

Friday, February 8, Old South Church, Boston
Sunday, Febuary 10, First Unitarian Church, Worcester


Cinquième concert (from Pièces de clavecin en concerts) - Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
        Fugue La Forqueray       
        La Cupis
        La Marais

Sonata in D Major for traverso and continuo, op. 2 no. 5 - Michel Blavet (1700-1768)
        La Chauvet (Largo)   
        La Dedale (Gavotta)   
        Fuga (Allegro)
        Les Regréts (Tendrement)
        Le Marc Antoine (Rondo)

Aquilon et Orithie     Rameau


Troisième concert (from Pièces de clavecin en concerts) - Rameau
        La Lapoplinière
        La Timide


Les Femmes - André Campra (1660-1744)

Aaron Engebreth, baritone
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Christina Day Martinson, violin
Daniel Ryan, basse de violon and cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes
The three composers represented on this program were innovators who shaped the course of French music during a period of profound stylistic change in the eighteenth century. Earlier in the century, François Couperin began experimenting with incorporating the Italian style in his compositions, writing sonata movements that he later incorporated into larger chamber music works. As the century progressed, the French public became increasingly accepting of Italian influences in vocal and instrumental works, and the genres of instrumental suite, opera, and cantata were also evolving out of the more rigid forms of the previous century.

Jean-Philippe Rameau’s work had a towering influence on Parisian musical culture during his time. His theoretical writings were hotly debated in the press, and his operas were seen as revolutionary, with striking innovations in form, harmony, and orchestration that were controversial for the conservative partisans of Lully (the venerable composer to Louis XIV whose stylistic influence was felt to the French revolution). Rameau’s instrumental works, consisting mainly of harpsichord suites, continued and accelerated the trend away from the traditional sequence of dance movements to freer groupings of genre and character pieces, with a greater emphasis on keyboard virtuosity.

Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts were composed in 1741 while he was under the patronage of A.-J.-J. Le Riche de La Pouplinière. While these works were not the very first accompanied harpsichord pieces to be composed in France (Rameau acknowledged the influence of Mondonville’s Pieces de clavecin en sonates from 1734), they are an early and important example of the keyboard trio genre. The entire work consists of sixteen movements divided into five groupings. With the exception of the Tambourins in the Troisième concert, all of the movements performed on these concerts are character pieces. Many of the pieces are named after personages in Rameau’s circle: La Forqueray is named after a famous viol player, La Cupis and La Marais after well-known composers. La Lapopliniere is named after his patron, a wealthy financier who supported a community of musicians, artists, and writers.

Another composer associated with La Pouplinière’s household is the virtuoso flutist and composer Michel Blavet. Blavet’s playing was widely admired, and he enjoyed an international reputation, receiving accolades from Telemann, Quantz, Daquin, and Voltaire, among others. He even declined an invitation to join the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. In his opus 2 sonatas (from 1732) he, like Rameau, eschews the more traditional dance forms in favor of evocatively titled character pieces.

Both Rameau and André Campra made important contributions to the chamber cantata genre. Rameau’s surviving secular cantatas were composed relatively early in his career. Rameau wrote Aquilon et Orithie between 1715–19 while he was organist at Clermont. The work retells a Greek myth in which Aquilon (god of the North wind) exhibits outbursts of passion to win over the Athenian princess Orithie.

André Campra was a native of southern France, where he spent the first decades of his life, working as a church musicians in Aix, Arles, Toulouse, and Montpellier. In 1684, Campra moved to Paris, where he became an influential composer of opera-ballets, a form he is credited with inventing. In his cantatas, he endeavored to combine the French and Italian styles. Les Femmes is from his first book of cantatas, published in 1708. The work’s text centers on the protagonist’s frustration with women and the vicissitudes of love. It shows great dramatic flair in a variety of movement types, including a sommeil (expressive of sleep). The work’s unconventional but effective ending is a deeply poignant final recitative.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf