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Conference on the Air de Cour at Versailles (Part 2 of 4)

This is the conclusion of yesterday's posting about the first day of an international colloquium on the air de cour of the late 16th and early 17th centuries (L'air de cour au temps d'Henry IV et de Louis XIII), hosted by the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. (Here is Part 1.)

The first afternoon session presented three young French scholars, none of whom are working in musicology. Tarek Barrada spoke about some of the salons and other places where music was played regularly in and around the French capital at this time. Stephane Macé discussed the literary and rhetorical notion of the style simple, in order to ask many questions about how the concept might be applied to the air de cour. Guillaume Peureux presented some lines of poetry by Pierre Motin, which appear to have intentional errors, and glossed them as a criticism of the literary theories of François de Malherbe (1555-1628). In the final session, Frank Dobbins spoke on the airs of Charles Tessier. Isabelle His, one of the best scholars on the music set to the type of poetry known as the vers mesuré à l'antique, spoke on the relationship, often confused, between that music and the air de cour. She concluded that the two repertories have enough in common that musique mesurée can be considered a historically specific subset of the air de cour and that in general the air de cour preserved those qualities of musique mesurée that made sense to present to a wider audience and lost its more theoretical abstractions. Finally, Jeanice Brooks (University of Southampton) gave a superb paper on the French embellishments that can be found as traces in the published versions of airs de cour, with a comparison of French ornaments to those known in Italy at the same time. Not surprisingly, there is great similarity between the two traditions.

Peter Paul Rubens (attrib.), Portrait of Man with Lute, 1610-1615The colloquium's first day concluded with a concert that was to be a program of airs de cour. However, because the singer, Claudine Ansermet, was ill, the lutist Paolo Cherici put together a program of solo lute pieces instead, which was quite enjoyable. The concert's first half featured Italian pieces from the 16th century, of which I especially liked pieces by Pietro Paulo Borrono da Milano, Francesco da Milano, and Pietro Paolo Raimondo. (If you want to hear these performers, you can find information on their recordings by the Web sites I have linked to above.) Playing on an archlute, Cherici also performed a second half of 17th-century French music for the lute, the best of which was by Pierre Ballard. The affectation of country songs and dances in Baroque music is amusing, one example of how many foods, music, literary styles now considered delicacies or luxuries began as imitations of simple peasant life. There were brief moments in these country pieces by Ballard (Bransle "La Cornemuse" and Bransle de Village) that sounded to me surprisingly akin to American country music. The concert concluded with a Pavana and Canario by Gasper Sanz, played upon a small Spanish Baroque guitar.

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