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  • HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) The Fairy Queen & The Prophetess
  • HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) The Fairy Queen & The Prophetess
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HENRY PURCELL (1659-1695) The Fairy Queen & The Prophetess
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Reference: AVSA9866

  • Le Concert des Nations
  • Jordi Savall

The English were latecomers to the opera. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, one might have expected the theatrical establishment to embrace the new genre enthusiastically: after all, things foreign were once again in fashion. Charles II himself established a troupe of string players in frank imitation of Louis XIV’s Vingt-Quatre Violons du Roi, while in France itself, Italian opera, having been successfully transplanted, soon thrived in its new soil. But for some reason, the first attempts at popularizing opera in England (whether in Italian or in the vernacular) were failures. Instead, the practice of introducing incidental music within plays and masques assumed increasing importance. Such music could either set the action (in the manner of an Overture), comment upon it (in the case of vocal numbers), or else accompany danced items; but in any case its relationship to the plot was often peripheral. Midway between this simpler kind of incidental music and the full-blown opera stands the semi-opera, an indigenous genre borne largely out of fashionable aversion to opera itself: after all, the expense of a fully-staged production of The Fairy Queen would have been at least comparable to operatic extravaganzas on the continent.

Additional Information
Intèrprets

LE CONCERT DES NATIONSManfredo Kraemer concertinoDirection : JORDI SAVALL

Informació

Data i lloc de gravació : Collégiale de Cardona (Catalogne) Septembre 1996

Llista de Temes

THE PROPHETESS (1690)1. First Musick 2’072. Second Musick 1’563. Symphony for Trumpets & Violins 1’544. Retornella 1’035. Dance of the Furies: Soft music – Dance 2’166. The Chair Dance 1’287. Retornella 3’40THE FAIRY QUEEN (1692)The First Act Suite8. First music: Prelude (1) 2’249. Hornpipe (2) 1’0210. Second Music: Air (3) 1’0011. Rondeau (4) 1’2912. Overture (5) 2’4013. First Act Tune: Jig (8) 1’07The Second Act Suite14. A Prelude (9) 1’0815. “A bird’s Prelude” (10) 1’3716. Echo (12) 2’2817. A Fairies Dances (13) 1’5018. A Dance of the Followers of Night (18) 2’0819. Second Act Tune: Air (19) 1’22The Third Act Suite20. Prelude “Love’s a Sweet Passion” (20) 3’0621. Overture: Symphony while the swans come foward (21) 2’0422. Dance for the Fairies (22) 1’0723. Dance for the Green men (23) 1’5624. A dance for the Haymakers (27) 1’5425. Third Act Tune: hornpipe (29) 1’03The Fourth Act Suite26. Symphony: Prelude, Canzona, Largo, Allegro, Adagio, Allegro (30) 6’0827. Entry of Phoebus (33) 1’0728. Fourth Act Tune: Air (40) 1’05The Fifth Act Suite29. Prelude (41) 1’2230. Entry Dance (44) 1’5231 Symphony (45) 0’5232. Monkey’s Dance (49) 2’3033. Chaconne: Dance for the Chinese Man and Woman (57) 1’0434. “Fifth Act Tune” (59) 1’47Les numéros entre parenthèses correspondent à la numérotation de la partition

Categoria

Catàleg complet, Heritage

Description

The English were latecomers to the opera. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, one might have expected the theatrical establishment to embrace the new genre enthusiastically: after all, things foreign were once again in fashion. Charles II himself established a troupe of string players in frank imitation of Louis XIV’s Vingt-Quatre Violons du Roi, while in France itself, Italian opera, having been successfully transplanted, soon thrived in its new soil. But for some reason, the first attempts at popularizing opera in England (whether in Italian or in the vernacular) were failures. Instead, the practice of introducing incidental music within plays and masques assumed increasing importance. Such music could either set the action (in the manner of an Overture), comment upon it (in the case of vocal numbers), or else accompany danced items; but in any case its relationship to the plot was often peripheral. Midway between this simpler kind of incidental music and the full-blown opera stands the semi-opera, an indigenous genre borne largely out of fashionable aversion to opera itself: after all, the expense of a fully-staged production of The Fairy Queen would have been at least comparable to operatic extravaganzas on the continent.

But all technicalities aside, the varied orchestration, the inexhaustible flights of fancy, the deft touches, may be Purcell’s response to the constant intrusion into his librettos of the supernatural. Throughout the semi-operas (and in Dido, of course), gods, faeries, spirits fair or foul intervene in human affairs. This theme finds its most tragic expression in Dido, but its magical and comic aspects are even more full explored in The Fairy Queen. Thus, the echo sequences from The Fairy Queen put a magical construction on one of the baroque’s musical commonplaces, while the appearance of Fairies, Furies and Green Men call forth striking, buoyant gestures. The flip-side of magic is exoticism, of which The Fairy Queen provides several examples. Yet it is through costumes and choreography that exoticism must have struck Purcell’s contemporaries, for there is nothing particularly simian about the Monkeys Dance, and the music of Chinese ballet can hardly have been familiar to the Restoration Londoner. The concept of the stage work as divertissement, dramatic though not necessarily representational, is paramount; the burdens of narrative, of psychological characterization, of verisimilitude are not the music’s concern. In that sense, the semi-operas differ from opera proper, with Dido and Aeneas serving as a harbinger of things to come.

Henry Purcell contributed incidental music to about fifty stage works, often in collaboration with other composers. Dido and Aeneas qualifies as an opera (at least in the sense of being through-composed), proving that Purcell had no objection to the principle; otherwise, the most substantial music is to be found in the five semi-operas written between 1690 and 1695, the year of the composer’s death. Only one of these, King Arthur, with a text by John Dryden, was an original drama designed with Purcell’s music in mind. The rest were adaptations of previous plays. The semi-operas are distinguished from Purcell’s smaller-scale incidental pieces by the enhanced role of the music within the plot (especially The Fairy Queen), and by a greater emphasis on dance-music. This recording presents instrumental music from the first of these. The Prophetess (1690), also known under the title Dioclesian, and perhaps the most impressive semi-opera of them all, The Fairy Queen (1692), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer-Night’s Dream. In both cases, each (spoken) Act is preceded by more or less extended instrumental introductions (some of which are simply called “act tunes”), and the work as a whole begins with a grand, suite-like sequence of pieces, complete with its Overture in the French manner. The opening music for The Fairy Queen is particularly extended. In between come the vocal items and shorter instrumental movements, intended both to introduce scenes and characters, and to provide an occasion for dance – this last a reflection, perhaps, of the taste for entr’actes in so much French incidental music of the time. Indeed, notwithstanding Purcell’s oft-quoted remark encouraging his countrymen to follow the Italian manner rather than “the levity and balladry of our neighbours”, the music on this disc would be inconceivable (even at this late stage) without the example of Lully.

The semi-operas also differ from more straightforward incidental stage pieces in their lavish orchestration. Whereas the music for incidental plays confines itself to strings alone, that of the semi-operas can only be compared to the composer’s Odes and Welcome Songs – even though, unlike many of the Odes (or Lully’s operas, for that matter), the semi-operas were not courtly entertainments per se. Trumpets, oboes, recorders, kettle-drums… Purcell’s flair for the dramatic, his sense of occasion and his textural imagination, are all fired up by the greater scope offered by these increased resources. The beginning of Act Four of the The Fairy Queen, with its striking kettle-drum solo, is one memorably brilliant touch; another, more subtle one is the use of a tenor oboe in The Prophetess, a distinctive sound that occurs nowhere else in Purcell’s stage music. The composer’s consummate craftsmanship is especially evident in the virtuosity demanded of the inner voices: listen to the rocket-like scales of the Dance of Furies (The Prophetess), shared by all parts in breathtaking exchange.

Almost immediately after Purcell’s death, the semi-opera began its inexorable decline, supplanted by the public taste for Italian opera that had been so long in coming. With the arrival of Handel’s Rinaldo of 1711, the transition was complete. How would a fifty-year-old Purcell have reacted to the arrival of the young German and his fully-fledged Italian wares? To what heights might he not have been stimulated by such intense artistic (and commercial) rivalry? Like the death of Mozart before Beethoven’s breakthrough, Purcell’s early death leaves us with a poignant taste of what might have been.

FABRICE FITCH

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