February 21, 2013
Love songs of the late Renaissance & early Baroque featuring French airs de cour and Italian passaggi, graced with lute solos from the French royal court and the Roman papal court. With Amy White, soprano and Dominic Schaner, lute.
Enfin la Beauté
Airs & graces of the heart
“At last, the beauty who I adore […] those eyes for which I die of love.” – Enfin la beauté
What’s love got to do with it? When I was little I would wonder why every song on the radio was a love song. The seventeenth century was no different than today; people desired, loved, and lost. And then they wrote songs about it. Our program is mostly from France and features a style of song called airs de cour, or songs of the heart. This style elevates the simple folk song to a high art, refined enough to be presented at court, but based on tavern songs and tunes favored by travelling musicians. Airs de cour featured some of the highest poetry of the time, were often homophonic, sung syllabically without meter, and the predominant form of secular vocal composition in France, particularly in the royal court. Airs de cour flooded both the household and courts of Louis XIII (a lute student of Robert Ballard), and it is highly plausible that while growing up in the palace, Louis XIV tapped his royal foot to the famous “Douce beauté” while learning to skewer delicacies with a new Italian utensil called the fork.
Some of these airs de cour are fanciful, some melancholic. “Cessés mortels de soupirer” begins with some advice for young lovers: “sigh no more, mortals, her beauty is not of this world. You may adore her but you may never love her.” This is a common theme when marriages were mostly arranged and the only love was forbidden fruit: face it, love hurts, and although unattainable, it is always worth it; which brings me to drinking. “Qui veut chaser une migraine” is just as it sounds; “he who would chase after a headache would do well to listen to me: drink and eat, but mostly drink because the wine is good and the company of lovely young girls is better.” Good advice, I think.
In contrast, you will hear what some Italian musicians were doing at this time. Music historians usually talk about airs de cour as belonging to the Renaissance but giving birth to certain Baroque mannerisms (style brisé, monody & homophony, notes inégales, gallant, and musique mesurée), whereas Italian divisions are arguably the pinnacle of the Renaissance and are what the Florentine Camerata rebelled against in an effort that led to the development of early opera (think Monteverdi or recall the concert we performed last year). Heavy melodic ornamentation occurs at the expense of any understandable text. On the other hand, the French were so concerned about poetry, they decided to throw out any regular rhythm and focus on the words (no bar lines exist in the airs de cour, only music following the text of a poem). This makes the airs de cour complex and challenging for the modern musician, who must constantly shift in order to accommodate ever-changing rhythmic figures, always subservient to the poetic text. Conversely, the Italian passaggi let flow a torrent of fast and florid notes. The tune “Ancor che co’l partire” (although we are parted…) was so familiar by the time Bovicelli wrote his divisions, most every Italian could hum it while doing dishes, though only the most accomplished professional musicians could execute these technical flourishes. I will play two of my own re-workings in this late Renaissance style, a compositional form mostly forgotten today, but employed by every professional musician during the late sixteenth century.
Historical and technical ideas aside, this music sings true of the universal heartache we call love. We want to leave you with the translation of one of the most moving airs de cour, “Ma belle si ton ame,” which contains this bit of wisdom for lovers of any age: “come and be merry, come under the budding trees, come my dear and share in our new love this spring!”
- Dominic Schaner
Soprano Amy White, a San Francisco native, appears frequently in the bay area as an opera and oratorio soloist with great sensitivity and power. Praised as having “one of the more lovely voices I have ever heard” (Albert Cofrin), she has recently played operatic roles such as Cupid in Venus and Adonis, La Poesie in Les Arts Florissants, Susana in Susana’s Secret, and worked with Drew Minter in the medieval theater piece Wolkenstein. Equally at home with sacred music, Amy’s latest oratorio engagements have included Scarlatti’s Cantata Pastoral, Bach’s St. John’s Passion, B minor Mass, Magnificat, Handel’s Dixit Dominus, Mass in G, Messiah and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum. Amy has performed in the San Francisco Bay Area with the SF Early Music Society, Philharmonia Baroque, Pacific Collegium, St. Dominic’s choir, Volti, Voices of Music, Cinnabar Theater, Quartet San Francisco, and abroad in the world premiere of Warren’s Sai Baba in India. Amy is also currently working with the American Bach Soloists, Wildcat Viols and The Novello Quartet, editing their upcoming CDs. Amy has studied with Julianne Baird, Ellen Hargis, Laurie Heimes, Jennifer Lane, Kathleen Flynn, and Joyce Farwell. She has been a scholarship recipient at the Vancouver Early Music Festival, the Amherst Baroque Academy, Voices of Music Young Artists Concert, and was the guest artist and teacher at the San Francisco Early Music Society’s Medieval & Renaissance summer workshop from 2007-2009. With a BA in vocal performance from Whitman College and an MA in English Literature from Mills, she is singing early music and working with the Redwood Empire Food Bank while starting a garden in her Sonoma County home.
Lutenist, musicologist and composer Dominic Schaner grew up on a small organic family farm in rural California. Here, in this infinite expanse of nature, he was introduced to music at a young age. During his following musical life, Dominic has given concerts as both a solo & ensemble musician throughout North America. In the San Francisco Bay Area, he has collaborated with Schola Cantorum, MusicSources, members of Chanticleer, the San Francisco Early Music Society, Sonoma Bach, Marin Baroque, and Voices of Music. In addition to performance engagements, Dominic has given lectures on the lute and its music at Boston University, the University of Dallas, and Palomar College. Most recently, Dominic was invited to perform a concert and present a paper of his entitled Il Divino and the Modern Heresy at the Early Music Vancouver Seminar. In his scholarly pursuits, Dominic discovered seven previously unknown works by Luca Marenzio in the collections at Harvard (Houghton MS Mus. 183), detailed in a paper awaiting publication. Dominic studied music throughout America and Europe with such luminaries as Catherine Liddell, David Taylor, Paul O’Dette, Hopkinson Smith, Jacob Heringman, and Crawford Young. He has served as the guest artist & resident accompanist at the San Francisco Early Music Society’s Medieval and Renaissance Seminar, and as the lute tutor at the Cambridge Early Music Summer School. Dominic founded and directs the early music ensemble The Euphora Project and curates a radio show by the same name (KOWS 107.3fm). During his day job, Dominic creates art & music with developmentally disabled adults at Becoming Independent.
Dominic is playing an eight-course lute built and designed by Cezar Mateus in 2006, modeled after Hans Frei’s lute of 1530.