The Austrian Connection

Musicians and music-lovers in the 17th and 18th centuries saw their musical culture as polarized between two distinct and incompatible styles, the Italian and the French. To us, three- and four-hundred years later, these “opposites” may not seem so extremely different, but to them it was, as we might now say, “a very big deal.” It aroused feelings so strong and deep that in the 1690’s François Couperin felt compelled to publish his first “sonatas” (an Italian form) under a pseudonym, for fear that he would be dismissed from his positions at the royal court; and in the mid-18th-century, there was actual physical combat in the streets of Paris between proponents of the French and Italian styles of opera—the so-called “War of the Buffoons.”

The musical style which we now refer to as Baroque arose in the late 16th century in the city-states of northern Italy, especially Venice and Florence. There were two key factors in its evolution: the simplification of the polyphonic textures of the Renaissance (a linear approach to composing in several voices) into vertically-oriented block chords, such as found in the canzone and polychoral motets of Giovanni Gabrieli; and the development of the recitative-style, a way of composing musical dialogue with simple chordal accompaniment that made possible the creation of the first operas in the late 1590’s. These two factors were combined in the early 1600’s with a newly-evolving literature for the violin, which led to the style of instrumental and vocal music embodied by the sonatas and concertos of Arcangelo Corelli and later Antonio Vivaldi.

In France at the same time there was great awareness of developing Italian styles, primarily because of the influence of two queens from Florence, Catherine des Medicis in the 16th century (wife of Henry II) and Marie des Medicis (wife of Henry IV). French Baroque style took different paths from the Italian, however, primarily because of the different characters of rhythm and accentuation in the languages and literatures of France and Italy. Ironically, the musician who came to embody the French style above all others, Jean-Baptiste Lully, was Florentine by birth, even though his training as a violinist, dancer, and composer all took place in Paris.

The “Austrian Connection” to which this concert refers is to the Austrian composer Georg Muffat. Although born in the region then known as Savoy (now the very northwestern part of Italy), he was educated in Paris, studying with Lully himself, before pursuing his own career as organist and composer in Austria, first in Vienna and then Salzburg, finally in Passau. But he also was well-versed in the Italian style: after moving to Austria he was given leave to spend time in Rome studying with the famous organist Pasquini, and where he became a friend of Arcangelo Corelli. He admired Corelli’s concerti grossi very much, and his own compositions in that style were performed in Corelli’s home by the master himself. Thus Muffat became the first major composer to unite the “conflicting” French and Italian styles in his own music, prefiguring the accomplishments in the same “unification” of Bach, Handel, and Telemann.

© 2009 Daniel Pyle

Notes on the Dance

During the early years of his reign, Louis XIV performed in theatrical works such as Le Ballet de la Nuit of 1653, an all-night production in which he dressed as Apollo in the final entrée (act), portraying the rising sun at dawn. Of significance is that the on-stage cast included not only Louis XIV, but also young Jean-Baptiste Lully, who later composed the great tragédies-lyriques of the Académie Royale de Musique (eventually the Paris Opéra); actor and playwright Molière; and dancer Pierre Beauchamps, who later became the king’s dancing master and composer of ballets. Beauchamps is credited for the early development of a dance notation system, (officially published by Raoul-Auger Feuillet in 1700), as well as for the codification of the five positions of the feet still used in ballet today. The notation conveys floor patterns, music, steps, a clear marking for music measure divisions, and some indication of step timing within the measure. Notation publications provided courts all over Europe easy access to the most fashionable dances and insured French influence on the art form. Instructions on specific dance style, arm movements, and step execution were presented verbally in dancing manuals that also included information on ballroom etiquette; how to sit, stand, and give honors (bow); how to remove one’s hat; etc. Louis XIV’s last theatre performance was in 1670.

The music for the “Chacone of Amadis Performd’ by Mr. Dupré” is from Lully’s 1684 Amadis and was choreographed by Anthony L’Abbé, a French dancing master working in London, and published in c1725. The chaconne occurs at the end of the opera in the enchanted palace of Apollidon: Amadis passes through the Arch of Loyal Lovers and by doing so releases heroes and heroines who had been captives awaiting their own true lovers.

The “Menuet performd’ by Mrs. Santlow” is also by Anthony L’Abbé and was published in London in c1725. Hester Santlow was a Drury Lane Theatre actress and dancer and, as the wife of Barton Booth, also known as Mrs. Booth. The audience of the day would have been delighted to see Hester’s variations on the simple ballroom menuet step.

The “Entrée pour une femme” was danced by Mlle. Victoire in the Ballet du Carnaval de Venise composed by André Campra in 1699. The dance, choreographed by Guillaume Louis Pécour and published in 1704, is a forlana performed by “masques” in the last scene: Le Bal.

Dances with a Spanish flavor became popular at the French court, not surprising since Louis XIV’s marriage to Spanish-born María-Teresa was just one of many royal alliances to straddle the Pyrenees. Spanish characters appeared in the French theater and it became fashionable to dance Spanish entrées while playing castanets. The “Entrée Espagnolle pour un femme,” a loure, was danced by Mlle. Subligny in the Ballet de L’Europe galante composed by Campra in 1697. Like the previous dance, it was choreographed by Pécour and published in 1704.

Marin Marais’ Alcyone (1706) includes a tune, “Marche des Matelots”, which you may recognize as the Christmas carol “Masters in this Hall”. The Marche pre-dates the carol, though, and must have been very popular as it was used for four known notated dances: a solo for a man, two duets for a man and woman, and a popular contredanse called La Matelote (“The Female Sailor”). I have arranged the manuscript solo “Entrée de matelot par mr. feüillet” and the 1706 duet “La Matelotte par Mr. Feüillet” for this performance.

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer was born in lower Saxony and received his education in Vienna. He was employed as a violinist in Vienna and later appointed Kapellmeister in Frankfurt. Schmelzer is best known for his instrumental compositions and especially his dance suites, and in fact, was given the official title of ballet composer to the Viennese court in 1665 and continued to write dance music until shortly before his death in 1680. Since there was not yet a system for notating dances, a gap remains in our knowledge of specific dance movement between the Navarro treatise of 1642 in Spain and the Favier dance score of 1688 in France. Thus, in reviving a Schmelzer ballet, one is confronted with questions concerning the dance steps and style as well as the ballet plot and performance occasion. Since Schmelzer’s music contains a movement titled Erlicino (“Harlequin”), I have choreographed the Serenata con altre arie as an episode during Carnival in which various commedia del’ arte characters appear: Scaramouche, Pulcinella, Harlequin, and Columbine. Allow your imagination to decide the circumstances…but the Campanella (pealing bell) announces that dawn is near.

© 2009 Paige Whitley-Bauguess