Venice to Versailles
The title ‘Venice to Versailles’ evokes the idea of a journey or the movement from one place (or state) to another. The works recorded here certainly present an intriguing musical journey through the diversity of instrumental chamber music of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: sets of variations on vocal works and ground basses, dances, sonatas and suites from Italy and France.
Venice (late sixteenth to early seventeenth century) and Versailles (late seventeenth to early eighteenth century) were two of the most important centres for the arts in Europe. They represent the two dominant and contrasting styles of music during the Baroque period: Venice, the robust, joyous exuberance and barocco (‘wild’ or ‘grotesque’) character of the Italian style, and Versailles, the refinement, delicacy, elegance and douceur (‘sweetness’) of the French.
The cover photograph depicts these ideas wonderfully. In it we see the parquet floor of Louis XIV’s sitting room at Versailles, with its precise yet classically cool and well proportioned design, bathed in the warm glow of autumn sunlight (I like to think of it as a Mediterranean sun). The photograph is also a beautiful study of darkness and light. The dramatic contrast of light and shade (chiaroscuro) was a technique used by Baroque painters to express emotion. Baroque composers also sought to express, or rather, represent, a wide range of ideas and feelings with the utmost vividness. From Monteverdi to Bach, they sought new musical means for the expression of the affections or passions, and to intensify these musical effects by means of (sometimes violent) contrasts.
Baroque Music, Oratory and The Affections
An assumption that was prevalent in the Baroque period (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) was that the ancient Greeks were correct in their belief that music plays a fundamental role in society because of its power to have a direct effect upon the soul and actions of mankind. This presupposes that music possesses a content beyond its purely musical syntax and structure, and that that content is describable in emotive terms. This is itself based on the view, first discussed by Plato and Aristotle, that music ‘imitates’ or ‘represents’ the characters and passionate tones of men with the aim of arousing such passions in the listener.
Baroque musicians and theorists also saw many parallels between the Greek and Roman art of rhetoric (oratory) and music. According to ancient writers, such as Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian, orators employed rhetorical means to control and direct the emotions of their audiences and so persuade and move them. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Marin Mersenne (1588–1648) in Harmonie universelle (1636) describing musicians as ‘harmonic orators’.
When writing about music and its performance, musicians of the early-seventeenth century in Italy, for example, often used the word affetto. It was used in two ways: to refer to the states of the soul and also to the particular expressive devices employed in composition and performance to arouse those states. The vocal embellishments (trillo, gruppo, esclamazione etc.) that Guilio Caccini (1546–1618) discusses in his Le Nuove Musiche (‘the new music’) published in 1601 are termed affetti; and Biagio Marini (c1587-1663) titled his first book of instrumental music, published in Venice in 1617, Affetti musicali (‘musical affections’).
Apart from embellishments, the affetti musicali included ornamental passage-work or divisions (passaggi), expressive intervals and dissonances, and startling or unexpected harmonies and chord progressions. In addition, performers of this early Baroque repertoire were expected to match their tempos (including radical fluctuations), phrasing and articulation to the affect of the piece or section of a piece.
Early Baroque Instrumental Music in Italy
During the late-sixteenth century in Italy, the practice of playing diminutions or passaggi on existing vocal works was considered an integral part of tasteful instrumental performance. Performers developed their own individual styles, extending the musical ideas and techniques of their predecessors. By the end of the century the art had developed into a new kind of musical exhibitionism, exploiting the idiomatic possibilities of each instrument. A number of practical treatises were published by leading musicians, whose main concern was the technique of playing and the documentation of their own particular style. These treatises consist mainly of musical examples: lists of passaggi on the intervals of the scale and cadential formulas (cadentie), as well as examples of complete pieces to show how these ideas could be applied in practice (tracks 01, 02, 03).
Early Baroque instrumental music continued the development of these techniques and practices. Dance music and the freer, more instrumentally idiomatic forms like the toccata (track 04), ricercata (track 01) and prelude continued to be written. The most important instrumental forms, however, were those originally derived from vocal models: the canzona, sonata (tracks 05 and 06) and sinfonia. In these forms the imitative techniques of the polyphonic chanson, madrigal and motet were combined with the improvisation practices of the late sixteenth-century instrumental virtuosos, such as Giovanni Bassano (tracks 02 and 03).
The terms canzona and sonata are derived from canzona per sonar (literally ‘song to be sounded’ or ‘played’) and initially did not indicate two distinct forms. They were used to describe instrumental works that were either direct intabulations (notated in lute tablature) of French chansons (‘songs’) or more loosely based on them. The canzona or sonata is usually divided into a number of clearly defined and contrasting sections. An imitative section is contrasted with a chordal section, or duple time is contrasted with triple time, and each section has its own mood or affect (tracks 05 and 06). While the two terms were often used interchangeably, it can be said that in the canzona the emphasis was more on the technique of composition whereas in the sonata it was more on the technique of playing. It was the latter type that became the more prevalent and influential.
Several of the works on the CD are based on grounds (tracks 07, 08 and 16). A ground is a melody, usually in the bass (hence ground bass), recurring many times in succession accompanied by continuous variation in the upper parts. Variation sets based on grounds form an important part of the instrumental repertoire of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Several later Baroque dance forms, such as the chaconne (track 16) and passacaille, are also built on grounds. The possibilities of melodic and harmonic variations on these bass patterns are almost endless, limited only by the skill and imagination of the composer (and performer).
The French Baroque Suite
In fine arts the word suite (from suivre ‘to follow’) was used in the early-eighteenth century in France to denote a collection of objects of the same type, as in suite d’estampes (a set engravings or prints) and hence our lounge suite or suite of rooms. By analogy the term was also used for collections of instrumental pièces that were usually grouped together by key. These groupings were largely a matter of convenience and French Baroque composers in no way had a concept of the suite as a finished or immutable work. Performers could select as many or as few pièces as seemed appropriate to the circumstances; even the order in which they could be played was not fixed.
Another common inclusion is the rondeau (tracks 11 and 20), a pièce in which, after an initial repetition, the first section or refrain returns a number of times (often with extra ornamentation) after intervening sections called couplets in the form AABACA.
Pairs of dances were also sometimes linked to create larger musical structures by repeating the first after the second (track 23); similarly, a pièce was sometimes followed by a double (‘as much again’ or ‘duplicate’), a repetition of the pièce with added passage-work and ornamentation (track 19).
French Baroque suites often began with an ouverture or prélude (tracks 09 and 13) and in addition to the allemande, courante, sarabande, menuet and gigue, the most popular French Baroque dances which became the core of the later suites by composers such as Bach and Handel, the French had a large number of other distinct dance types which were combined in a multitude of ways.
The ouverture (‘opening’) is a form that was developed by Jean Baptiste Lully (1632–1687). It is cast in two contrasting sections: the first, in duple time, usually has a majestic affection with dotted rhythms and the second, usually in triple time, is fugal and cheerful (track 09).
The allemande, a dance in duple time, originated some time in the early or mid-sixteenth century and by 1732 was likened to a rhetorical proposition from which the other movements of a suite flow. Allemandes were given a wide range of tempo and affect markings (tracks 10, 14 and 17).
The courante (literally ‘running’) is a triple time dance of two types: the Italian variety (track 19) has a fast tempo with running melodic passages in small note values; the French variety is similar, but often mixed simple triple time (three groups of two shorter notes) with compound duple time (two groups of three shorter notes).
The sarabande originated in the sixteenth century in Latin America and Spain as a sung dance in triple time. During the seventeenth century various instrumental types developed in Italy and France, with a fast and slow type (track 18) finally emerging.
The gigue apparently originated in the British Isles, where popular dances and tunes called ‘jig’ are known from as early as the fifteenth century. By the end of the that century distinct French and Italian styles had emerged, the French being written in a moderate or fast tempo (in 6/4, 3/8 or 6/8) with irregular, blurred phrases, imitative texture and a cheerful affection (tracks 12 and 22).
Performance Practice of French Baroque Music
French Baroque performance practice can be divided into two broad areas. The technical aspects, which Jacques Hotteterre called le jeu (‘playing’) include how to hold an instrument, sound production, fingerings, tuning systems and the theory of figured bass. The musical aspects, which Hotteterre called la propreté (‘proper execution’) include articulation, the conventions of rhythmic alteration, the execution of agréments and how to use these to help project the passions.
Articulation has to do with the way individual notes are attacked and released, and so, most importantly, the silences between them.
Rhythmic alteration includes all the expressive fluctuations of tempo and rhythm that a sensitive musician employs, but in French Baroque music there is a specific convention known as notes inégales (‘unequal notes’): in certain situations equally notated note values are played unequally. For example, quavers are played as dotted quaver/semiquaver pairs—a ratio of 1:1 becomes 3:1, though other more subtle ratios are also possible, such as 3:2 or even 2:1 (as in triplets). Sometimes composers notated the rhythm they wanted or included a written instruction at the beginning of a pièce, but it was largely left to the knowledge and taste of the performer.
The agréments (from agréer ‘to please, be agreeable’) are the trills and other graces added to a melody to make it more charming or graceful; indeed, the French did not conceive of melody without agréments. François Couperin and Jacques Hotteterre notated their agréments with great care through the use of many symbols.
French Baroque composers further indicated their musical ideas with the words they wrote at the beginning of a pièce that describe the character or affect to be borne in mind by performers in their interpretations; sometimes the title of a pièce gives a similar indication. The following list gives translations of the terms found at the beginning of the pièces recorded here:
- gravement – solemnly, gravely, seriously
- gay – cheerful, merry, lively
- gracieusement – gracefullyun peu lent – a little slower (than you would normally play)
- piqué – sharply dotted
- légèrement – lightly
- tendrement – tenderly
- doucement – sweetly
Instrumentation in Baroque Music
Constant yet subtle variation was appreciated as an essential element of good taste in all aspects of performance. This includes the choice of instruments and the way they are combined. On this CD the timbres of the instruments at our disposal are combined in a variety of ways to create a constantly changing sound palette.
In the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, precise instrumentation was often not indicated on the title pages of published music. Performers were permitted, if not expected, to adapt or arrange the music to suit their particular needs for a particular performance.
As with other aspects of performance practice, there were conventions that dictated appropriate instrumentation and obviously some types of music suited one instrument more than another. Sometimes composers gave a list of possible melody instruments on their title pages (though this was probably more a marketing technique to help sell more copies).
The accompaniment was usually indicated by the generic basso continuo and could be played on any instrument capable of playing chords (the harmonies were indicated by small ‘figures’ or numbers and other signs above the bass line—hence ‘figured bass’) such as the harpsichord, harp, lute, theorbo or guitar. The bass line could also be reinforced by a bass melody instrument, such as the viol, cello or bassoon, if available or if considered appropriate.
Sometimes composers included a preface or avertissement (‘warning’) with particular advice or other performance instructions to assist performers in making their decisions. Michel de La Barre (c1675–c1743), a flute player and composer at the court of Louis XIV, makes the following observation in the avertissement to his first book of pièces for the flute (the first collection specifically for the flute ever published):
‘I think the Theorbo is preferable to the Harpsichord [for the accompaniment] because it seems to me that the sound of the gut strings suits better the sound of the transverse flute than that of the brass strings [of the harpsichord].’
Bassano (c1558-1617) was a cornetto player who joined the instrumental ensemble at St. Mark’s, Venice in 1576. He published two important treatises: Ricercate, passaggi et cadentie (1584/6), which included examples of quasi-improvised pieces for solo instrument (ricercate), and Motteti, Madrigali et Canzoni francese (1591), which comprises examples of diminutions of complete parts from vocal models. He shows how a vocal work consisting of several voice parts can be performed by one melody instrument playing diminutions on one of the parts, accompanied by either other melody instruments or an harmonic instrument (like the lute) playing the remaining parts. In Bassano’s diminutions we can hear the beginnings of the Baroque style of instrumental writing as exemplified in the sonatas by Castello (track 05) and Cima (track 06).
Ricercata Quarta (track 01) is divided into a number of sections by clearly defined cadences, and there is some free development of the melodic ideas and frequent use of florid passaggi. The other two works are based on early-sixteenth century French chansons by Roland de Lassus and Clemens non Papa. The text of a French chanson is often about l’amour (a national preoccupation). Bassano’s divisions are in keeping with the dominant affect of each text.
Susanne ung jour (track 02):
Susannah, being solicited one day by two old men desiring her beauty, was inwardly sad and downcast on seeing this attempt on her chastity. She said to them: ‘If by disloyalty you enjoy my body, I am lost; if I put up a struggle, you will have me put to a disgraceful death; but I prefer to perish in my innocence rather than offend the Lord by sin.
Frais et gaillard (track 03):
Fresh and confident, one day among a thousand, I strove to make an ample breach in the defences of a fair maid, to fulfil the works of nature. She replied: ‘Such is my desire, but I fear it is too small’. When she felt it, she cried: ‘By our lady! Make haste, for I swoon’.
Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger
Kapsberger (?–1651) was born in Venice and moved to Rome in 1604 after the publication of his Libro primo d’intavolatura di chitarrone (‘First book of intabulations for the theorbo’—lute music used a special notation system called tablature). He was regarded as the foremost virtuoso of his time on the chitarrone (theorbo), lute and guitar. The theorbo (the name changed c1610–1620) had only been invented c1589 and the extra extended neck for the bass strings was apparently not added until 1595. It was unlike any previous member of the lute family in that it has a re-entrant tuning: the first and second strings are tuned down an octave so the third string is actually the highest in pitch. Kapsberger had no tradition to fall back on with this new instrument (the Renaissance polyphonic style was not really possible on an instrument with re-entrant tuning) but still managed, in a short period of time, to develop a new virtuosic solo style: he was an innovative musician working with an innovative instrument.
A toccata (from toccare ‘to touch’) is a free, improvisatory solo piece intended to exhibit a player’s technique (track 04).
Castello (?–1658) was an instrumentalist who worked at St. Marks in Venice. He was Capo di Compagna di Instrumenti (‘head of the company of instruments’) when he published his two books of Sonate Concertate in 1621 and 1629. While some elements of the older canzona style, especially the sectional structure, are retained, the title pages describe the works as being in the stil moderno (‘modern style’), a style that assimilated the older style of instrumentally embellished vocal music, transforming it into the new, idiomatic Baroque sonata.
Sonata prima (track 05) is an excellent example of the Italian love of extreme contrasts, moving through a range of affects from the tranquil to the fiery. Castello uses just two terms to indicate the affect of the contrasting sections: ad asio [agio] (‘at ease’ or ‘relaxed’) and allegra (‘merry’ or ‘lively’).
Giovanni Paolo Cima
Cima (c1570-?) was director of music and organist at St Celso, Milan in 1610 and was the leading composer of the Milanese instrumental school in the early-seventeenth century. In 1606 he published a collection of ricecares and canzoni alla francese. His 1610 publication, Concerti ecclesiastici, contains conservative church music, including a four-part mass, and six Sonate per Instrumenti, four by Giovanni and two by his brother Andrea.
Cima’s importance lies mainly in his early use of the trio sonata medium (two melody lines plus bass). Like the Castello sonata, Sonata à tre (track 06) is constructed of contrasting sections with some virtuosity of style, though more restrained as befitting its ecclesiastical context.
Ortiz (c1510-c1570) was a Spanish theorist, composer and viol player. He was in Naples by 1553, when he dedicated his Trattado de glosas to the Spanish nobleman Pedro de Urries, Baron of Riesi (Sicily). By 1558 he was maestro de capilla of the chapel maintained in Naples by the Spanish viceroy.
The Trattado de glosas (‘treatise on the ornamentation of cadences and other types of passages in the music of viols’) is the first printed ornamentation manual for the player of bowed string instruments. It provides numerous written-out divisions on specific passages and cadences. The player is told to inspect the dozen or more variants provided for each one, to choose the most apt and to write it into his part at the appropriate place. This is demonstrated in several ornamented versions (also called recercadas) of Arcadelt’s four-voice madrigal O felici occhi miei and Pierre Sandrin’s four-part chanson Douce mémoire.
The Trattado also contains four solo recercadas for bass viol, six recercadas built on the La Spagna bass (e.g. Recercada Ottava—track 07) and eight recercadas built on passamezzo basses (e.g. Recercada Segunda—track 07). In these recercadas Ortiz gives a number of example variations that can be played over each bass progression. It is left to the performer to decide how best to use these ideas and examples. For Recercada Segunda I have prepared some counter-melodies and variants as a basis for improvising against (or with) Ortiz’s notated examples.
Uccellini (c1603-1680), violinist and priest, is primarily important as a composer of instrumental music. None of the music of his operas and ballets, which he composed towards the end of his life, has survived. He spent some time in Assisi probably as a pupil of Buonamente. In 1641 he became head of instrumental music at the Este court in Modena and from 1647 to 1665 was maestro di cappella at the cathedral there. From 1665 until his death he was maestro di cappella at the Farnese court at Parma. His extant output comprises seven collections, mainly of sonatas, printed between 1639 and 1669.
Aria sopra la Bergamasca (track 08) is a variation sonata, from Uccellini’s third book of instrumental music, which uses a simple four-note ground bass that is repeated 31 times.
Jacques Hotteterre ‘le Romain’
Jacques Hotteterre (1707)
Hotteterre (1674-1763) was the most illustrious member of the famous Hotteterre family of musicians. He was active as a composer and arranger, theorist (his flute treatise was the first to appear in Europe), teacher, performer and instrument maker. Hotteterre used the appellation ‘le Romain’ from at least 1707, possibly because he may have spent some time in Italy in his youth.
Hotteterre had strong connections with the French court. As early as 1689 he is recorded as being a bassoonist in the Grands Hautbois du Roi and the title page of his first book of pièces for the flute (1708) indicates that by then he was also a Flûte de la Chambre du Roi. Hotteterre dedicated this book to Louis XIV saying that ‘the favourable regard that Your Majesty deigned to accord me when I had the honour to play these pieces in your presence, inspires in me the boldness to present them to you today.’
We have selected four pièces (tracks 09 to 12) from Hotteterre’s Première suite de pièces à deux dessus, sans basse continue (‘First collection of pieces for two melody instruments without bass’). In a brief avertissement he states that the second part can be played on a string instrument. Throughout these pièces, the two melodic lines interact in continuous musical dialogue, a conversation galante (‘courteous conversation’). The title of the Rondeau—Les Tourterelles (track 11) means ‘turtledoves’; it expresses beautifully the douceur (‘sweetness’) so prized by the French.
The Troisième Suite (tracks 17 to 22) comes from Hotteterre’s first book of pièces for the transverse flute. The allemande bears the title ‘The waterfall of St. Cloud’. St. Cloud (now a district of Paris) was a villa owned at that time by Philippe Duc d’Orleans, the king’s nephew and later regent of France after Louis’ death. For a time Philippe studied the flute with Hotteterre, who dedicated a book of trio sonatas to him. The meaning of the title of the Sarabande—La Guimon is unclear. The title of the courante means ‘indifferent’ or ‘unconcerned’ and it certainly has a light-hearted, carefree character. It is in two parts, the second being a double with added passage work and ornamentation. The rondeau (track 20) is titled ‘the plaintive’ or ‘doleful’ and is a wonderful expression in music of melancholy. The title of the menuet (track 21), ‘pretty’ or ‘darling’, is also entirely appropriate to the character of the music. The suite ends with a gigue, titled ‘the Italian’, which is typical of the Hotteterre’s quirky approach to this type of dance.
Robert de Visée
De Visée (mid-17th–early-18th century) was the most famous guitar and theorbo player in France during the reign of Louis XIV. Around 1680 he became a chamber musician at the royal court. He performed frequently with the flautists Descouteaux and Philbert (Hotteterre’s predecessors), the harpsichordist Jean-Baptist Buterne and the violist Antoine Fourqueray; he was also the king’s guitar teacher. In the dedication to his first guitar book (1682) he mentioned that he was often called upon by the king to amuse the Dauphin and according to another account he regularly played at the king’s bedside in the evenings.
De Visée published two books of pièces for the guitar, and three manuscripts (by 3 different copyists, possibly including de Visée himself) of works for theorbo also survive. These last contain the same types of dance pieces as are found in his guitar music and often duplicate the guitar works.
The Suite in A minor (tracks 13 to 16) is from one of the surviving manuscripts. It begins with a free-form prelude that is not unlike a toccata. The title of the allemande and the following courante, ‘the royal’ or ‘regal’, suggests that they may have been intended as a homage to the king. The chaconne is typical of this dance type. It is based on a simple four bar ground bass, with seven sections (or variations) of contrasting melodic material, each built on two repetitions of the bass.
Couperin (1668-1733) was the most famous member of a musical family that was active in and around Paris from the sixteenth century to the mid-nineteenth. He wrote some of the finest music of the French neo-classical school, including numerous works for solo organ and harpsichord, motets, cantatas, chamber music for small ensembles and a treatise on harpsichord playing. As befitting someone of his high standing, Couperin held a number of important positions at Louis XIV’s court that continued after the king’s death. The title page of Les Goûts-réünis (1724), a collection of instrumental chamber music, states that he was an organist of the king’s chapel and a member of the musique de la chambre, as well as previously being employed to teach composition and accompaniment to the late Monseigneur le Dauphin Duc de Bourgogne (the duke, who was the grandson of Louis XIV and father of Louis XV, had died in 1712) and that he was currently teaching the infant queen Marie Leszczynska.
Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin (‘harpsichord pieces’) were published in four volumes (1713, 1717, 1722 and 1730). They contain dance and character pieces, many of which have titles (though the connection between title and piece is not always clear). The two musettes (track 23), Muséte de Choisi (‘choice’ or ‘carefully chosen’) and Muséte de Taverni (‘tavern’), come from the third book. A brief note in the score states that ‘these musettes are appropriate for all sorts of instruments in unison [playing at the same pitch]’. On the CD the flute plays the sujet (‘subject’), the violin the contre-partie (literally ‘opposing view’) and the theorbo the bourdon (‘drone’—literally ‘bumblebee’). Couperin’s melodic inventiveness in these two pièces is quite extraordinary.
The musette was a small bagpipe derived from folk instruments but redesigned, often with highly ornate trappings, for aristocratic use. The term musette was also applied to a dance-like pièce of pastoral character whose style is suggestive of the sound of the musette, and a dance of the same name was danced in French ballets as early as 1718.
Photo: Felicity Spear
The Australian artist Felicity Spear and I share a love of the French—their language, art, music and cultural heritage—which nourishes our creative activities. We have had many interesting conversations about the relationship of art and music, and I have had the pleasure of playing at one of her exhibition openings. After one of her visits to France, she showed me a portfolio of photographs she had taken as part of her research and I am most grateful that she agreed to let me use one of them for the cover of this CD and to provide the following short note about her work.
Just as there is an association with architecture in the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so too there is an overlay of architecture in my paintings and photography. My works reference historical models of seeing and perceiving, and investigate the symbiosis that occurs between certain sites and our experience of space and time. One of these models is the period of the European Baroque, with its innovative explorations in the use of light, optics, illusionism and the theatrical manipulation of space in architecture. Early music reflects diverse variations on a theme with an expressive intensity, as well as an architectural structure and order. Engaging with these musical references, and in the wake of modernism, I revisit this period within the contemporary milieu.
- ‘Ganassi’ soprano recorder in C
- Frederick Morgan, Daylesford.
- ‘Ganassi’ alto recorder in G
- Frederick Morgan, Daylesford, after late 16th-century model.
- Baroque flute
- Rudolf Tutz, Innsbruck, after G. A. Rottenburgh (mid 18th-century).
- Baroque violin
- presumed Italian (c.1700)—set to period specifications.
- Tim Guster, Adelaide, 2001.
- Baroque Guitar
- Tim Guster, Adelaide, 2000.
- Renaissance Lute
- Peter Biffin, Armidale, 1994.
- Cover photo:
- The floor of Louis XIV’s sitting room in the palace of Versailles (October, 1997), taken by Felicity Spear.
- Digital photography:
- Greg Dikmans and Judith Caughie.
- Move Records, Melbourne.
- Digital recording and editing:
- Vaughan McAlley.
- Produced by:
- Elysium Ensemble and Martin Wright.
- Booklet design:
- Alessandro Servadei.
- Program notes:
- Greg Dikmans.
- MPEG video production:
- Martin Wright.
The Elysium Ensemble gratefully acknowledges the support of Simone Pérèle.