…Campra was one of the leading French opera composers in the period between Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau. He wrote several tragédies en musique, but his chief claim to fame is as the creator of a new genre, opéra-ballet. He also wrote three books of cantatas as well as religious music, including a requiem…
The lighter music of the splendid French Baroque remains in need of greater exposure, making this disc of cantatas by the young Jean-Philippe Rameau and André Campra a welcome arrival. Here is some of the music the royals and aristocrats heard not in halls of opera and ballet but in more intimate surroundings, for amusement, with one or two singers and a small instrumental grouping.
Is it fair to say that most born Frenchmen have considered themselves exceedingly fortunate in their nativity? Moi? I didn't enjoy such luck. Neither did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the favorite of Louis XIV and thus the tyrant of French music for thirty-four years. Lully was born in Florence in 1632, but carried to France as a youthful Ganymede; he entered the service of the Sun King in 1653 as a dancer, and he rose to a position of monopoly influence in Louis XIV's court despite his flagrant debauchery and libertine sexuality. Just as Louis declared, that 'he was the State,' Lully could well have said "French Music, it's me!"
André Campra's "Tancrède" is something of a "missing link", connecting the 17th century stage works of Jean-Baptiste Lully and his frustrated rival Marc-Antoine Charpentier with the late baroque works of Jean-Philippe Rameau. "Tancrède" was given its premiere in 1702 and was repeated again and again on the Paris stage. Even in the 1760's, when Rameau's "Les Boréades" had to be abandoned because of the death of the composer, it was Campra's "Tancrède" that the directors of the Paris Opéra chose to put back on stage because of its popularity.
A Baroque West Side Story, Tancrède tells of the absolute but impossible love between two young people brought together by their passion but separated by their origins. We are in the time of the Crusades: Tancredi is the champion of the Frankish army, and Clorinda the passionaria of the Saracen troops.
Campra's Idomenee (based on the same story as Mozart's Idomeneo) was first staged in 1712. Campra significantly reworked the score for the 1731 revival, and it is this second version of the opera that is recorded here. The opera follows the traditional tragedie-lyrique pattern having five acts and a prologue. But under Campra's pen (I mean, quill), the formalities of the genre are transformed into a genuine drama. The comparison between the 1712 and 1731 versions of the opera confirms Campra's intention to produce an emotionally realistic drama: the second version eliminated several minor characters and streamlined the plot thus achieving a better dramatic effect…
Vers le milieu du XVIIe siècle, Louis XIV encore enfant, Mazarin fait son possible pour imposer l'art italien aux Français – dont il avait pris la nationalité en 1639 –, invitant compositeurs, chanteurs et même machinistes à traverser les Alpes. Mais la majorité de la Cour, le Clergé en premier lieu, voit d'un mauvais œil ces représentations coûteuses où passions et plaisirs amoureux sont applaudis. Il faut attendre Lully pour les réconcilier avec l'opéra, notamment en favorisant une ornementation plus sobre, mettant en valeur la compréhension du texte. À la fin du siècle, exprimant les sentiments de manière moins dispendieuse, apparaît la cantate, nouvelle forme de musique vocale profane à l'usage des salons et des salles de concerts..
Of Italian parentage, André Campra was probably the most successful successor to Jean-Baptiste Lully in the last years of the grand epoch of Louis maître de chapelle at Notre Dame Cathedral, a post that gave him a degree of protection against the usual court intrigues over who would succeed musical dictator Lully, and in 1697 he came out of the proverbial closet to begin composing the court ballet, beginning with his L’Europe galant . By 1720 he had obtained all of the usual prestigious posts but retreated back into composing sacred music as the French critics targeted him more frequently.
Conductor and musicologist Jean-François Paillard was one of the most visible French exponents of Baroque music from the 1960s onward. Paillard earned a degree in mathematics from the Sorbonne, but he turned to music soon after. He attended the Paris Conservatory as a musicology student, where he won first prize in music history; he later studied conducting at the Salzburg Mozarteum with Igor Markevitch. He formed the Ensemble Jean-Marie Leclair in 1952, which was renamed the Jean-François Paillard Chamber Orchestra the following year. Comprised of a dozen string players and a harpsichord, the group paralleled such small-scale English ensembles as the Boyd Neel Orchestra in performing Baroque-era works - especially those from France - as well as contemporary works for string orchestra. As the public's interest in Baroque music rose, the orchestra's popularity grew and was aided by a series of international tours covering dozens of countries.