By Janice Manchee
During its seven-year history, Rideau Chorale has explored several different musical periods. For its December concert, it’s returning to Baroque.
The Baroque era was sandwiched between the Renaissance and Classical periods and lasted from about 1600 to 1750. The term Baroque wasn’t actually used until the end of the period. It is the French translation of the Portuguese word for “broken pearl,” and some music historians think it was meant as an insult to this “modern” music.
Baroque is characterized by lots of vocal ornamentation with intricate and complex details. It has a continuous bass line underpinning the more expressive higher voices and includes frequent key changes, especially between keys near one another. As well, it can be very lively.
It is, in short, lots of fun to sing and listen to.
But how to choose the pieces? There’s early Baroque (1600s) and high Baroque (1700-50). The masters included Handel, Monteverdi, Telemann and J.S. Bach. The French distinguished themselves musically from the Italians, often by the instruments they used and the way in which they used the rhythm of the text.
Rideau Chorale’s new music director, Kevin Reeves, has selected a French master of Baroque, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, for Rideau Chorale’s December concert.
Charpentier was the son of a master scribe and well-connected to influential families in Paris. He was well educated by the Jesuits and attended law school for just one semester before taking off for Italy. He went to Rome and spent two or three years studying with Giacomo Carissimi, a master of early Italian Baroque.
Upon his return to France, he immediately began working for the aristocratic Guise family where he remained for 17 years. He was given an apartment in the Hôtel de Guise, which indicated he was not considered a servant but rather a courtier.
Over his time with the family, Charpentier produced a sizable collection of oratorios, operas, masses, hymns and other works that brought some of the Italian flavour to French Baroque.
The Guise family and their influence with King Louis XIV helped Charpentier break Jean-Baptiste Lully’s monopoly on the composition and performance of opera in France. And when Molière finally had his fill of Lully, he turned to Charpentier for the incidental music in his plays. Later in life, Charpentier worked for the Jesuits, where he stopped writing his larger works and focused on putting Christian text to music.
Charpentier was prolific, writing between 500 and 800 works, many now seemingly lost. But his music lives on today, with his Te Deum providing the fanfare for the Eurovision Network.
Reeves has chosen three Charpentier pieces for performance by Rideau Chorale. The longer Messe de Minuit de Noël is based on 10 traditional French carols. Instead of the solemn sound of many masses, it has a lyric and dance-like quality. Magnificat H. 79 and Salve puerule are shorter pieces revealing more of Charpentier’s style.
“So, put our concert in your calendar,” says Reeves, “and come experience the joyous atmosphere of a Baroque Noel.”
The concert takes place Sunday, December 10 at 7:30 pm at Southminster United Church.
Janice Manchee is the chair of Rideau Chorale and sings tenor.