Ouverture from La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers, H.488 Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704)
Le passage de la mer rouge Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729)
Sonata La Felicité Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Lentement • [Allegro] • Lent • Allegro • [Gavotte] • [Gigue]
Prelude in A Minor • Chaconne in A Minor Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre
Léandre et Héro Louis-Nicolas Clérambault
Teresa Wakim, soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Sarah Darling, violin
Daniel Ryan, basse de violon
Vivian Montgomery, harpsichord
This concert is presented in collaboration with the Sudbury Historical Society. It is supported, in part, by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, and the Sudbury Cultural Council.
This program presents cantatas and instrumental works by some of the most innovative French composers of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault were at the forefront of the integration of the Italian musical genres of cantata and sonata with the graceful and elegant French aesthetic. Many of the works on this program display extraordinary dramatic qualities in their storytelling.
Charpentier was the only composer of these three who actually studied in Italy. He received his early training from the oratorio composer Giacomo Carissimi and honed his unique style in the intimate and supportive environment of his Italophile court patron Mademoiselle de Guise. The overture to his opera La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers is composed not in the French manner of a mercurial slow section followed by a fugal fast section, but more along the lines of an Italian sinfonia with similarly quick duple and triple meter sections.
While the works of Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre demonstrate superlative skill and innovation, this outstanding French Baroque composer is beginning to receive recognition in recent years through modern-day revivals of her compositions. She was a singer, keyboard player, and composer who was a child prodigy, having received her training and first performance opportunities at the court of Louis XIV. Her sacred cantata Le passage de la mer rouge is from her first book of cantatas published in 1708. It tells the biblical story of the Israelite’s escape from slavery under the Egyptians and their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. This highly dramatic work features some striking text painting, including the instrumental interjections in the first recitative depicting the murmurings heard by Moses, and a Bruit de la guerre (sound of war) instrumental section characterizing the enraged Egyptian army in pursuit of the Israelites.
Our selected harpsichord solos by Jacquet de La Guerre are taken from her first collection published in 1687 and are among her earliest surviving works. She developed a reputation for being an exceptionally creative improviser, and the unmeasured Prelude in A Minor may perhaps give a sense of her skill in extemporizing.
Louis-Nicolas Clérambault was an organist and harpsichordist who held the prominent position of organist at the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Although he primarily wrote religious works, his secular output included several masterful cantatas, harpsichord suites, and a small number of instrumental ensemble works. Along with Charpentier and Couperin, he was among the first French composers to write Italian-style sonatas. His sonata La Felicité is an example of such a work comprising a series of connected contrasting sections presented in flowing succession. Nonetheless, he includes graceful French dance movements, such as a sprightly Gavotte and Gigue.
Clérambault’s cantatas were likely composed for his patron Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV’s former mistress, for whom Clérambault arranged musical evenings at her apartments. He published five books of cantatas that were widely dispersed and admired by his contemporaries. His cantata Léandre et Héro is taken from his second book of cantatas published in 1713. It tells the tragic story of Leander, lover of Hero who is a priestess for the goddess of love on the Greek side of the Hellespont (a strait now known as the Dardanelles). Leander lives on the Asian side and attempts to swim the Hellespont to reach his lover. The jealous north wind god, Boreas, creates a storm, drowning Leander, whereupon grief-stricken Hero casts herself into the sea. The god of the sea, Neptune, then intervenes, taking the lovers into the realm of the immortals where they are reunited forever. In Clérambault’s setting of the tale, his musical devices palpably support the drama throughout. Highlights include the serene smoothness of Hero’s plaintive prayer to Neptune; turbulent, agitated violin and bass lines that evoke clashing winds and crashing waves; and snappy, angular rhythms in the closing aria which admonishes the god of love Amor for his blind, injurious capriciousness.
—Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan