Christ Church Cathedral
Artists: La Rêveuse – Florence Bolton, direction and viola da gamba; Benjamin Perrot, direction and theorbo; Clément Geoffroy, harpsichord; Sébastien Marq, recorder
Bird song is very different from the sound of instruments, but no other animal has given such inspiration to musicians and composers, from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Through fascination for birdsong this programme brings to life a certain vision of the music of the 17th and 18th centuries focusing on science, nature and culture, illustrated with arrangements for early instruments of some essential pieces of the twentieth century inspired by Couperin, Rameau and Corrette.
La Rêveuse is an ensemble of solo musicians that works on the heritage of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period rich in artistic experiments and inventions of all kinds.
This concert is generously supported by Anthony Morgan.
William Williams (1675-1701) / Robert Orme (?-1711)
Sonata In Imitation Of Several Birds
Jakob Van Eyck (1590-1657)
Engels Nachtegaeltje (Little English Bird)
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)
The Birds (excerpt from The Fairy Queen)
Theodor Schwarzkopf (1659-1732)
Sonata all’imitazione del Rossignolo e del Cucco
François Couperin (1668-1733)
Le Rossignol en amour [transcribed for recorder and theorbo]
Les Fauvettes plaintives [transcribed for recorder, pardessus de viole & harpsichord]
Louis de Caix d’Hervelois (1677-1759)
Les Sylvains [transcribed for theorbo by Robert de Visée (c.1650-before 1732)]
Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725)
Pourquoi doux rossignol [instrumental version by Michel Blavet (1700-1768)]
Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
Les Ramages (extraits du 5ème concert à deux dessus sans basse)
Michel Corrette (1707-1795)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Le Coucou au fond des bois (excerpt from the Carnival of the Animals)
arr. Vincent Bouchot (1966- )
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Poules et coqs (excerpt from the Carnival of the Animals)
arr. Vincent Bouchot
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Laideronnette impératrice des pagodes (excerpt from Ma Mère L’Oye)
arr. Vincent Bouchot
Musicians—and poets—have often seen birds as kindred spirits. The fascination with birdsong among music-makers and theorists of the European tradition goes back centuries. Intellectuals debated whether birdsong was, properly speaking, music at all—whether it was rational or sensual, the product of conscious artistry or automatic mechanism. Some argued that birdsong reflects the distant origin of human music and even language, which were then refined and systematised over millennia of human civilization. Most, in any case, shared a common delight in imitating Nature with Art. In an age (after about 1600) when virtuosic instrumental music had come into its own, composers demonstrated their ingenuity by incorporating familiar birdcalls into the design of their latest pieces for violin, recorder, or harpsichord. These imitations were partly matters of convention, but also of observation. A keen ornithologist would recognize in such works the iconic two-note descent of the cuckoo, for example. The great Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher exemplified this interest in the real musical properties of birdcalls when he transcribed, in Musurgia Universalis (1650), the songs of several notable birds in musical notation.
As might be expected, the taste for bird music transcended national boundaries. The oldest music in this programme, by the blind Dutch bell expert and recorder master Jacob van Eyck (1590-1657), transports a tune identified as Engels Nachtegaeltje (“English Nightingale”) to the streets of Utrecht. Van Eyck published this set of variations as part of a large collection of music for solo recorder called Der Fluyten Lust-Hof (“The Flute’s Pleasure Garden”). Many of these pieces were likely heard for the first time in the wooded park around the Janskerk (St. John’s Church) in Utrecht, where van Eyck was commissioned to entertain passers-by “with the sound of his little flute.”
Decades later, composers such as the Stuttgart-based Theodor Schwartzkopf (1659-1732) and the English William Williams (1675-1701) [and Robert Orme (?-1711)] combined the principle of bird imitation with the conventions of the Italian sonata. Here, the characteristic trills and warbled thirds are set off by imitation between the voices and tuneful sequences. Another English composer, Henry Purcell (1659-1732), invoked the “songsters of the sky” to create an atmosphere of pastoral contentment. In Purcell’s semi-opera The Fairy Queen, a pair of duetting birds suggest the enchanted forest world of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, introducing a moment of rest into the unfolding drama of quarrelling fairies and mismatched lovers.
Like Purcell, Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725) associates the thought of birdsong with a repeating ground bass pattern, a kind of timeless cycle underlying variations of melody and mood. In the original text of Pourquoi doux rossignol, a forlorn lover asks the nightingale why she has woken him before dawn. Bousset was an eminent composer of courtly song, and his gift for supple melodic lines and expressive text setting is still visible in this transcription for instruments by the fine flautist and composer Michel Blavet.
Beyond song, French music had a rich tradition of instrumental music with descriptive titles. François Couperin (1668-1733), called “le Grand” (“the Great”) to distinguish him from other accomplished musicians if the Couperin family, made a significant contribution to this tradition with his several volumes of pièces de clavecin (“pieces for harpsichord”). Couperin drew his subjects from the world around him; some of his pieces represent the personalities of friends and acquaintances, some depict emotions and abstractions, and many evoke features of nature. Les Sylvains may recall a royal entertainment in 1702 in which the king’s musicians appeared dressed as “sylvains”—that is, forest creatures, perhaps the goat-legged satyrs of Classical mythology. The transcription for theorbo by Robert de Visée indicates the popularity of this majestic rondo. Le Rossignol en amour and Les Fauvettes plaintives take a more descriptive turn; a tender melody and long trills suggest the voice of the nightingale, and the plaintive warblers are heard in sighing appoggiatura figures.
Louis de Caix d’Herlevois (1677-1759) and Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737) were important musicians of Couperin’s generation, d’Herlevois an influential composer for viol and Montéclair an admired double bass player. In this case, d’Herlevois is representing not birds but insects; La Sauterelle seems quite dignified for the subject matter—the humble grasshopper—but Le Papillon is expectedly light and fluttery. Montéclair’s Les Ramages (“chirps” or “warbles”) gathers a whole aviary of distinctive birdcalls, conveniently labelled in the score—see if you can pick out the sounds of the nightingale, canary, blackbird, hen, parrot, and cuckoo.
Jean-Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764) also had some fun with the publication of La Poule, part of his Nouvelles suites de pieces de clavecin of 1727—in the score, the first line of music is “translated” textually into the call of a hen: “co co co co co co co dai!” Rameau was an innovative composer and thoughtful theorist who approached the imitation of nature very seriously, but his sense of humour is clearly on display in the high drama, dissonant harmony, and grave minor key with which he treats the pecking (repeated note motif) and crowing (rapid arpeggios) of a hen. Michel Corrette (1707-1795), by contrast, integrates the song of the cuckoo—the characteristic descending third that comes out in both the basso continuo and the upper line—into the lighter, more tuneful idiom of the new century in a lively piece that resembles a jig.
Leading figures in French music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) and Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) were both inspired by their Baroque forebears. The charming musical portraits that conclude this concert are adapted from Saint-Saëns’s Le carnaval des animaux—whose elusive cuckoo and bustling chickens are by now familiar characters—and Ravel’s Ma Mère L’Oye, a collection of fairy tales from “Mother Goose”—the “impératrice,” or empress, of the pagodas is something of an ugly duckling, cursed by an angry fairy but destined to live happily in the end. Ravel conceived of his fairy tale suite with children in mind, and Saint-Saëns actually prohibited the public performance of Le carnaval des animaux during his lifetime to safeguard his reputation as a serious composer. Nevertheless, these have become some of their composers’ most well-loved works, carrying forward the musical (and avian) imagination of centuries past.
- Notes by Connor Page
Founded by Benjamin Perrot and Florence Bolton, La Rêveuse is an ensemble of solo musicians that works on the heritage of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period rich in artistic experiments and inventions of all kinds. The ensemble’s recordings have all been acclaimed by French and international critics and have received numerous awards.
La Rêveuse is frequently invited to appear in prestigious venues in France (Auditorium de Radio France, La Folle Journée de Nantes, Les Concerts Parisiens, Fontevraud Abbey, Théâtre de l’Athénée, the Chambord and Radio-France Montpellier festivals, the Scènes Nationales of Orléans, Blois, and Quimper, the TNP de Villeurbanne, etc.) and abroad, notably in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Russia, Japan, the United States and Canada.
Wishing to forge links between the different artistic disciplines, the ensemble often collaborates with the world of the theatre and literature in order to give a new slant to classic texts. Among the notable productions it has premiered are L’Autre Monde ou les États et Empires de la Lune by Cyrano de Bergerac and Les Caractères de La Bruyère with the actor and director Benjamin Lazar, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Molière/Lully with Catherine Hiegel and François Morel, Molière’s Monsieur de Pourceaugnac with Théâtre de l’Éventail (Raphaël de Angelis) and L’Heure verte, a show focusing on the poets of the Cabaret du Chat Noir, with the composer Vincent Bouchot.
Alongside this, the ensemble has developed over the past few years a series of concert-lectures, aimed at museums and media libraries, which bring out parallels between music and painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The ensemble has also invested in knowledge transfer through Les Ateliers de Musique Ancienne (Early Music Workshops), which aim to introduce the music and arts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to a wide audience through a range of activities, including chamber music courses at the Conservatoire d’Orléans, lectures and ‘discovery concerts’.
In 2017 La Rêveuse was awarded the Gold Medal of the Académie Arts-Sciences-Lettres for its overall achievement.
Florence Bolton and Benjamin Perrot, dir.'s.
Florence Bolton began musical studies at the age of seven, with the harpsichord and the recorder. Attracted to bowed instruments, she finally devoted herself to the viola da gamba. After obtaining a first prize for a viola da gamba and a first chamber music prize at the Saint-Cloud Conservatory (Sylvia Abramovicz’s class), she joined the early music department of the CNSM in Lyon where she studied with Marianne Muller. She obtained a first prize in 2001. She also holds a master’s degree in Japanese from the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO). Florence Bolton teaches viola and chamber music in Orleans and various baroque music courses.
With Benjamin Perrot she founded and shares direction of the ensemble La Rêveuse. With La Rêveuse, she has created several shows including The Other World or the States and Empires of the Moon by Cyrano de Bergerac (2004) and Les Caractères de La Bruyère (2006), with the comedian and director Benjamin Lazar; The Thousand and One Nights (2011) with actress and director Louise Moaty; Concerto Luminoso (2012) – magic lantern show and old music – with the visual artist Vincent Vergone; L’Heure Verte (2017) with the composer Vincent Bouchot, a cabaret show about the resonances of the circle of libertines of Gaston d’Orléans and the poets of the Chat Noir.
Benjamin Perrot studied lute, theorbo and Baroque guitar with Eric Bellocq and Claire Antonini at the Conservatoire National Régional (CNR) in Paris, where he graduated in 1997 with the Diplôme Supérieur de Musique Ancienne. He then went on to advanced study with Pascal Monteilhet. In 1996-97 he was also trainee accompanist at the Studio Baroque de Versailles (Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles).
He is co-founder of the ensemble La Rêveuse with Florence Bolton. He also created the production l’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la Lune with the actor and director Benjamin Lazar.
He teaches lute and theorbo at the Conservatoire of Versailles and is a répétiteur at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. He also teaches on several early music training courses.