• LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL au temps de Louis XV (1725-1774)
  • LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL au temps de Louis XV (1725-1774)
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LE CONCERT SPIRITUEL au temps de Louis XV (1725-1774)
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Reference: AVSA9877

  • Le Concert des Nations
  • Jordi Savall

The origin of private concerts, both in France and the rest of Europe, dates back to the time when music began to spill out from churches and palaces to grace private houses and open-air gardens. According to Huber Le Blanc (the author of the famous pamphlet Défense de la Basse de viole, contre les entreprises du violon et les prétensions du violoncelle, Amsterdam 1740), in Paris at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, “nothing was so fashionable as music, the passion of the well-to-do and persons of quality”, but it was during the Regency period that the first series of fully-fledged private concerts, with the early activities of the soon to be famous Concert Spirituel cycle began. The name Concert Spirituel derives from the fact that it was created so that concerts could be performed during Lent and on other religious holidays of the Catholic Church, a total of some thirty-five days each year, during which all the “profane” activities of the principal musical and theatrical institutions such as the Paris Opera, the Comédie-Française and the Comédie-italienne, were brought to a standstill.

Description

The origin of private concerts, both in France and the rest of Europe, dates back to the time when music began to spill out from churches and palaces to grace private houses and open-air gardens. According to Huber Le Blanc (the author of the famous pamphlet Défense de la Basse de viole, contre les entreprises du violon et les prétensions du violoncelle, Amsterdam 1740), in Paris at the end of the reign of Louis XIV, “nothing was so fashionable as music, the passion of the well-to-do and persons of quality”, but it was during the Regency period that the first series of fully-fledged private concerts, with the early activities of the soon to be famous Concert Spirituel cycle began. The name Concert Spirituel derives from the fact that it was created so that concerts could be performed during Lent and on other religious holidays of the Catholic Church, a total of some thirty-five days each year, during which all the “profane” activities of the principal musical and theatrical institutions such as the Paris Opera, the Comédie-Française and the Comédie-italienne, were brought to a standstill.

For many years, the concerts were held in the magnificently decorated Salle des Cent Suisses (Hall of the Hundred Swiss Guards) at the Tuileries Palace. Concerts started at six o’clock in the evening and were principally intended for the haute bourgeoisie, the minor aristocracy and foreign visitors. The programmes consisted of a mixture of sacred choral and French virtuosic instrumental works, as well as works by Italian and German composers. Anne Danican Philidor, born in Paris in 1681, the son of King Louis XIV’s music librarian, opened the series of concerts on 18th March, 1725. The programme for the first concert consisted of a suite of airs for violins from Michel-Richard Delalande’s grand motet “Confitebor”, Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto grosso written for Christmas Eve, and a second motet à grand choeur “Cantate Domino”, also by Delalande. Although the repertoire was overwhelmingly dominated by French music in the early years, with works by Couperin, Campra, Delalande, Mondonville, Rebel, Bernier, Gilles, Boismortier, Corrette, Charpentier and Rameau, it was not long before instrumental and vocal music by Italian, English and German composers such as Corelli, Pergolesi, Vivaldi, Bononcini, Geminiani, Handel, Telemann, Haydn and Mozart was included, to the delight of all those who welcomed and revelled in the latest musical novelties.

The first series was directed by a succession of director-entrepreneurs, who purchased a license for a royal privilege granting them an exception to the monopoly of public performance of music held by the Paris Opera (Académie Royale de Musique). The founder and first director was Anne Danican Philidor, son of the music librarian of Louis XIV and oboist of the Chapelle Royale. However, after only two years, Philidor went bankrupt; his successors Pierre Simart and Jean-Joseph Mouret (1728-1733) expanded the venture with a series of “French concerts”, but they suffered the same sad fate. As nobody was willing to take over the role, from 1734 and for the next fourteen years, the series was administered by the Académie Royale de Musique (1734-1748). During that time, works by French composers (in particular, Michel-Richard Delalande, Mouret, Jean-Joseph de Mondonville and Jean-Philippe Rameau) were given pride of place, although works by foreign composers such as Arcangelo Corelli (1750) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1751) were also performed. Finally, the series proved profitable (because the Académie did not have to pay a licence fee), but in general it was a period of stagnation. Two new entrepreneurs, Joseph-Nicolas Pancrace Royer and Gabriel Capperan (1748-1762), acquired the privilege and set about making their fortunes, redecorating the concert hall and increasing the size of the orchestra and the choir.

They continued to stage new French works (by Rameau in 1751) as well as older pieces and works by the best-known composers of the day, such as Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (1753), and some of the leading Italian singers were featured. From 1755, various oratorios with texts in French (which were initially banned so as not to constitute direct competition with the Opera) were performed to great popular acclaim. The series soon became profitable. In 1762 a good and influential royal official called Antoine d’Auvergne forced the widow of Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer to give up the management of the Concert Spirituel (her husband had died in 1755), and he and several of his associates took over the running of the concerts until 1773. Public interest was stimulated by the creation of a motet competition and broader programming to include the most outstanding virtuoso violinists of the day as well as the inclusion of wind instruments.

From 1777 the Concert Spirituel came under the direction of Joseph Legros, its last and most brilliant director. A star singer at the Paris Opera, Legros directed the concert series until it came to an end during the French Revolution of 1790. Legros attracted the most famous artists from all over Europe and renewed the repertoire by abandoning 17th century motets in favour of innovative works by Johann Christian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the Paris Symphony in 1778), Joseph Haydn (whose symphonies were included in almost every programme), and others by Gluck, Paisiello, Salieri and Cherubini. After the Revolution, the Concert Spirituel tradition was revived in the form of private concerts, thus establishing a tradition which became extremely important, particularly during the first half of the 19th century.

The repertoire of the present project is inspired in the instrumental works for orchestra by some of the favourite composers of the organizers of the Concert Spirituel during the reign of Louis XVI (1722-1774), and especially from 1728 to 1768. During this period, the programme included, among many others, works by Corelli (1725, 1748, 1750, 1764 and 1766), Telemann (1738, 1745 and 1751) and Rameau (between 1728 and 1768).

A work by Corelli – the Concerto fatto per la notte di Natale – was featured in the inaugural concert of 1725, and other works by the composer were included in subsequent programmes, especially during the 1760s. For this recording we have chosen a piece from the Concerto grosso Nº 4 in D major, Opus 6, which was written in the 1680s. Published posthumously in Amsterdam in 1714, it has enjoyed widespread and lasting popularity. In these works, Corelli established the concerto grosso model, which comprised two groups of string instruments, one consisting of two violins and a cello, and another larger ensemble, with four parts, always accompanied by a bass continuo; it also included a variable succession of fast and slow movements.

Telemann’s works were less regularly represented in the Concert Spirituel, and only up until 1751, although many of his works continued to be familiar to musicians for another two or three decades and the majority of critics and theorists continued to rank him among the best. Moreover, he made an extraordinary contribution to what is known as the German style, the contrapuntal idiom in which the French and Italian, as well as the Polish styles, are combined, and also to the lighter galant style, despite his reluctance to adopt the harmonic simplification which came with the mid-century Italian style. Telemann himself remarked that he had “clothed” the Polish style in “Italian dress”. However, French elements were also very frequent in his works, both in terms of orchestration and formal design, as well as in his frequent use of programmatic elements (as in the case of the overture for viola da gamba in La trompette); all this may explain his continued presence in the Concert Spirituel. Although many of his concertos adhere to the four movement slow – fast – slow – fast plan, many of his suites can be considered examples of what the contemporary theorist Scheibe called the Concertouverture: a relatively long overture followed by a suite of dance movements, orchestrated for various solo instruments, often including two high-pitched instruments, with string accompaniment and continuo like those included in the present recording.

Jean-Philippe Rameau, the only French composer in this imaginary Parisian musical soirée, presented his Opéra-ballet Les Indes Galantes at the Paris Opera in August, 1735. From the mid-1750s and during the following decade, in particular, Rameau was often represented in the Concert Spirituel with his motets as well as the symphonies or instrumental movements from Les Indes Galantes. Like many other works of this typically French theatrical genre, Les Indes Galantes consists of four acts (called entrées). Since the word Indes is used here in the generic sense of “exotic land”, the composer is at liberty to give free rein to different types of music without sacrificing its unmistakeably French flavour. Each act comprises a number of instrumental movements which serve as preludes, interludes, dances, etc., often removed from their original context and forming a Suite d’Airs à Jouer, consisting of several freely-structured movements which were known as symphonies.

The present collection of works provides a fascinating account of the true Musical Europe which evolved around that remarkable characterization of individual nations and their different temperaments, evoked through a robust musical language enriched by national styles that were both clearly differentiated and at the same time integrated in a quest for a utopian “goûts réunis” (Reconciliation of Styles), thanks to the ideal of rapprochement and synthesis so eloquently and beautifully championed by François Couperin the Great.

JORDI SAVALL & JOSEP MARIA VILAR
Translated by Jacqueline Minett