LES ARTS FLORISSANTS
Saturday Evening, October 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m. at Caruth Auditorium, SMU
The Dallas Bach Society James Richman, Artistic Director
Clare Cason, Michelle Hanlon, Baroque Violins
Tamara Meredith, Janelle West, Baroque Flutes
Eric Smith, Viola da Gamba
Chrisopher Phillpott, Baroque Cello
James Richman, Harpsichord
with THE NEW YORK BAROQUE DANCE COMPANY
Catherine Turocy, Artistic Director – Carly Fox Horton, Glenda Norcross, Alexis Silver, Catherine Turocy, Brynt Beitman, Brock Henderson, Gabriel Speiller, Andrew Trego
Anna Frederica Popova, Camille Ortiz-Lafont, Rebecca Beasley, Sopranos
Katrina Burggraf-Kledas, Mezzo-Soprano
Nicholas Garza, Tenor
Patrick Gnage, Baritone
Joshua Hughes, Andrew Dittman, Bass
The creation of this production of Les Arts Florissants was made possible by generous grants from TACA, the Texas Commision for the Arts, the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and numerous private donors. We are also grateful to Bruce Wood Dance Project and Contemporary Ballet Dallas for their support.
When he composed Les Arts Florissants, Marc Antoine Charpentier was in the service of the Duchesse de Guise, where he enjoyed the presence of a small but exquisite ensemble of musicians, several of whom were also servants. He produced a prodigious amount of music in all genres, which has the delightful characteristic that every “new” piece discovered and performed in our day proves to be of very high quality!
Les Arts Florissants, his Idyle en musique, was written in 1685 as best as can be judged, and thus during the lifetime of Lully, who held the Royal Patent for opera. Simply put, this Patent meant that no one else in the kingdom was allowed to use more than eight singers and eight musicians for dramatic musical works. While Charpentier did live long enough to survive this prohibition and write one full-blown opera, the cleverness with which he overcame the legal limitations in the current work is perhaps even a greater proof of his genius. He constructs a vocal ensemble of seven (in five parts with doubling of the soprano and bass parts) who serve as the solo Arts, as well as the chorus of Arts and Warriors. With the proper preparation, they also flee the stage, only to reappear as the followers of Discord. When Discord is vanquished by Peace (the eighth vocalist), they come back in their original guise to honor the return of Peace and the Flourishing Arts, in a finale of celestial beauty and perfection.
The exact reference to a real Peace has been much debated, as Louis XIV, whose Peace is clearly in question, was involved in a number of foreign conflicts at this time. One possibility that has not been much spoken of, but which may be the most important of all, is the turning of the tide in the ongoing war with the Turks, including the siege of Esztergom and the important victory at Novy Sad, as well as the turning back of the Turkish forces at the Gates of Vienna in 1683. This marked the beginning of the end of these conflicts, and Louis’s involvement in the victory was duly acknowledged by the Sublime Porte when he was ceded the title of protector of the Christian holy places in Palestine. Whatever the actual peace, however, Charpentier’s sublime work celebrates the bounty of peace on a higher level, with real gratitude for the blessings peace brings, especially for the arts.
Charpentier’s Sonata, a rare instrumental work, seems related to Les Arts Florissants by its position in the manuscript volumes containing his compositions. It stands alone as a work of great inventiveness, but is even more interesting in this context. His delightful Song of the birth of Jesus dates from the same period and was written for the same musicians and singers.
On Baroque Dance:
Although the forerunner of ballet, Baroque dance has its own vocabulary of movements and expressivity which is complete in itself. Among its characteristics are a relaxed foot, 90-degree turnout of the legs, ornamental hand gestures, vertical carriage of the body, close interplay between music and movement, and the use of symmetrical, complex floor patterns in choreographies. The elements of this dance technique were common in both ballroom and theater dances.
Throughout the Baroque era, Paris was the center of the dance world, where ballets were produced which ranged in size from solo entrees to large group pieces. Casts were originally drawn from the most talented of the nobility at court, as well as from professionals trained at the Academie Royale, but after 1700 the casts became wholly professional.
The chief sources of notation are the collections of ballets published by Raoul-Auger Feuillet in 1700-1704 and Gaudrau in 1712. The notation system records the step units, floor patterns, and correlation between music and dance measures. Although a notation and description of the hand gestures exists, the dances are rarely notated with their corresponding hand gestures. Consequently, the reconstructor must choreograph these gestures into the dances. Theatrical dances which employ contrasts in dynamics and phrasing, and stylized gestures in the development of a character, call even more directly upon the reconstructor’s talents, both as a choreographer and dramatist.
On Baroque Opera-Ballet:
The production of Les Arts Florissants aims at realizing the original concept of the ultimate artistic synthesis where the combination of many art forms leads to a total sensual and intellectual experience. Baroque opera-ballet was music theater at its most complex, which drew upon the extant traditions of dramatic and musical improvisation, lyric poetry, stage machinery, and the various forms of music and dance composition. The existence of these cultural riches as a natural backdrop in this time of great artistic creativity produced an art of unequaled splendor whose “perfection” was surely what led composers such as Monteverdi, Lully, Rameau, and Handel to devote their lives and greatest energies to this form. It is our belief that Baroque opera, which was so irresistible to its original patrons and public, can be equally compelling for today’s audiences when it is presented on its own terms rather than in the mold of nineteenth-century grand opera. Baroque opera was immediately communicative to its original audiences, who lavished unheard-of rewards and praises on its greatest exponents.
The successful realization of this total art, the gesamtkunstwerk as it might be called today, requires a different kind of understanding than is currently prevalent in opera. When confronted with an immense work of da capo arias sung by mythological or historical characters, with many binary-form dances, modern musicians have often reacted with the same doubts Burney had in the late eighteenth century, assuming that the older form would of necessity be pedantic or boring. Actually the construction of an act of Baroque opera is a special process of composition balancing the two kinds of dramatic time, that of the recitative and the more suspended time of the aria and dance.
Charpentier’s genius lies in his outstanding ability to give a wholly satisfying suite of events, which exploit to the fullest the limited forces available to him. This genius can be best appreciated today by recreating the framework within which this creativity took place. It is this, not any abstract notion, which is the underlying reason to be concerned with “authenticity,” with hearing the whole work, and for restoring the dance and drama along with the music. A total effect grows from the consonance and resonance between the respective parts, the singing with the original instruments, the music with the dance, the dance with the acting and declamation, and finally the procession through theatrical time which allows a most interesting period and style of performance to come to life.