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.
This two-CD album brings together the two earliest recordings by La Petite Bande. They were made in 1973 and feature landmarks in two important French forms of entertainment—comedie-ballet and opera-ballet. Performed in 1670 at Chambord, one of Louis XIV's grandest country retreats, Le bourgeois gentilhomme was the high water mark of Lully's collaboration with Moliere and was to be the last work of its kind on which the two worked together. Moliere developed the comedie-ballet from the fashionable court ballets, working the dances and music into the body of the play with unparalleled skill. Lully, himself a dancer, proved a gifted partner as the music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme reveals.
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.
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.
André Campra s’attelle à la composition de sa série de «petits motets» dès son arrivée à Paris en tant que maître de chapelle de la cathédrale Notre-Dame (1694-1700). Très vite ces compositions remportent un vif succès et l’on se presse à Notre-Dame pour les écouter Les motets de Campra sont fortement influencés par la musique italienne : raffinements harmoniques, charme de l’accompagnement, écriture brillante et contrastée… Ils sont aussi de la main d’un homme de théâtre : le texte sacré se met en scène. Campra sait tirer profit de l’effectif restreint du petit motet : airs, récits, duos, trios et ritournelles s’enchaînent comme à l’opéra ! Mais son éloquence n’est pas sans profondeur et ses grâces savent encore nous toucher…
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…