Tag Archives: France

The schola cantorum in Nantes

By the 18th century, the port city of Nantes had become an important transfer point in the Atlantic triangular trade, as ships carrying African slaves docked in the port, one of the first instances where this was allowed in France. The city’s strategic location was evident again during the French Revolution, when Nantes served a base in the battle against Vendée and royalist armies in 1793 Battle of Nantes. Like other French port cities, Nantes industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and specialized in the textile and food trade. The new economy contributed to the modernization of the city so that by 1879 one of the first trams powered by an air compressor engine was put into operation. The city’s development, however, was severely disrupted by several catastrophic floods in the early 1900s which led to the closure of several large manufacturing sites and factories.

In 1913, the Schola Cantorum de Nantes was founded under the direction of Marguerite Le Meignen (1878–1947), the first official statutes of the music association are dated 1920. It corresponded to the expectations of the new concert associations, such as the Concerts populaires (1910), as well as those of various choirs, including A Capella (1908) or Les Chanteurs de Notre-Dame (1902), that emerged across the city in the early part of the century. The Schola brought about musical innovation by establishing a large mixed choir, which included a symphony orchestra. By the first decade, the efforts of the concert associations appeared to wane. Although opera still flourished in the city theaters (despite a fire in the Théâtre de la Renaissance in 1912), choral singing flourished in the Maitrise de Notre-Dame or in amateur ensembles. The press and critics regularly pointed out that Nantes did not have concert companies like Angers.

Learn more in a new entry on the musical life of Nantes in MGG Online.

Below is a 2019 performance of Jubilate Deo by the Schola Cantorum de Nantes, directed by Thierry Brehu.

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Filed under Europe, Religious music, Voice

Cleopatra and the Oriental menace

In canonical French Orientalist discourse of the 19th century, the Orient is cast as effeminate, weak, and in need of rehabilitation by Western civilization. However, the dramatic arts of late 16th- and early 17th-century France constructed a different picture, one in which the Orient as temptress was a deadly threat to the West.

During the late Valois and early Bourbon monarchies, the queen regents Catherine de Médicis (1519–89), Marie de Médicis (1575–1642), and Anne d’Autriche (1601–66) were associated with political turmoil and civil war that threatened to destroy the kingdom. Within this troubled political context, fatal women of the Orient sought to entice their prey on the French stage. Most deadly among them was Cleopatra, embodiment of Egypt, incarnation of women’s malignant sexual seduction, exposed in her subjugation of Marcus Antonius, the fallen, conquered, and emasculated Roman.

With the rise of Louis XIV (1638–1715) and his imposition of a purportedly indomitable and masculine monarchy, women were to be vanquished outright. Reigning women, including those in the tragedies of Philippe Quinault (1635–88), were the victims of self-destructive passions ending in defeat, death, or abandonment by the heroes whom they sought to enslave. An emblematic example of such a crushed woman is the sorceress Armide in the tragédie en musique by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–87), the libretto of which is by Quinault.

This according to “Regnorum ruina: Cleopatra and the Oriental menace in early French tragedy” by Desmond Hosford, an essay included in French Orientalism: Culture, politics, and the imagined Other (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010, 23–47; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-6408).

Above, a 17th-century depiction of Cleopatra by Claude Vignon; below, Stéphanie d’Oustrac portrays Armide’s downfall.

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Filed under Baroque era, Opera, Renaissance, Women's studies

Le Carrousel du Roi

In 1612 France’s Queen Regent, Marie de Médicis, betrothed her son Louis XIII to King Philip III of Spain’s daughter Anne. Louis and Anne were both ten years old.

The engagement was celebrated with  Le Carrousel du Roi, a lavish public extravaganza that involved magnificently costumed processions, wild beasts, giants, acrobats, elaborate floats, numerous court musicians, and an elegant equestrian ballet. Approximately 200,000 people crowded into the Place Royale to watch the spectacle.

This according to “Dances with horses” by Carolyn Miller (Early music America VIII/2 [summer 2002] pp. 30–33). Below, music composed by Lully for a later royal carrousel.

Related article: Le ballet de la nuit

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Filed under Baroque era, Dramatic arts

Francophone Music Criticism, 1789–1914

Launched by the Institute of Musical Research at the University of London in 2010, Francophone Music Criticism, 1789–1914 is a repository of digitized, searchable reviews relating to French music and ballet. Texts are grouped into collections devoted to particular works, events, series, performers, or authors. Bibliographical resources and work in progress of a more general nature are also included. The database’s development network is headed by Katharine Ellis and Mark Everist.

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Filed under Reception, Resources

Harmonizing the past

In response to a heightened anxiety regarding the preservation of a pure, authentic French identity and spirit as contacts with exotic cultures increased, the collection and dissemination of French traditional songs blossomed during the 1890s and the 1900s.

With harmonizations employing modal inflections, ambiguous tonalities, and unconventional voice leading, these collections presented traditional songs as historical evidence of a clear progression from provincial folk tunes to the sophisticated musical language of the fin de siècle. These harmonizations offer unique insights into the ways in which the French consciously manipulated how they wanted to be heard and understood during this period.

This according to “Harmonizing the past” by Sindhumathi K. Revuluri, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

Above, a page from the original edition of d’Indy’s Chansons populaires du Vivarais, op. 52 (Paris: A. Durand & Fils, 1900) illustrates his approach to modal harmonization.

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Filed under Romantic era, Theory

Comedy versus opera

Music was commonly introduced into French plays at least by the time of Molière, but after Louis XIV gave Lully a monopoly on opera in 1673 this practice was drastically circumscribed. Actors protested politely at first, but Louis did not take the hint, so dramatists began to turn to their sharpest weapon: satire.

Operagoers were depicted as ridiculous losers, and operas as overblown and barbaric. Opera houses were portrayed as venues for illicit flirtation, and opera singers as people with questionable morals. Operas were said to bay at the moon, to have no new airs, and to employ monkeys instead of poets and musicians. While this derision had no apparent effect on the opera world, it gave French comedy a rich new subject.

This according to “Comedy versus opera in France, 1673–1700” by Henry Carrington Lancaster, an essay included in Essays and studies in honor of Carleton Brown (New York : New York University Press, 1940), which is covered in RILM’s recently-issued Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.

Above, Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin’s depiction of Lully’s  Armide as performed at the Palais-Royal in 1761.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Dramatic arts, Humor, Literature, Opera, Reception