|The Angel and the Devil
The Baroque era adored contrast, especially artistic. Sharp profiles, exuberant curves, turns of events and harmonic digressions which were balanced by refined form, quality execution, shine and the richness of the polish used.
It is logical that the Golden Age of Baroque culture fell under the reign of Louis XIV., the super-squandering Sun King. I don’t want to enumerate the well-known artistic deeds initiated by him, nor do I want to make a list of the hundreds of plays, poems, oratorios, motets, operas, cantatas or simple instrumental sonatas published and performed in public with his financial support. His formative impact on art genres and architecture cannot be overlooked.
All this is in great contrast with Louis‘ political „art“, which enhanced diplomacy to become the strongest tool of power and cast the army in the role of extras pretending, with few exceptions, to perform in a heroic drama about the nation, the King – the Sun and other gods, including God Himself.
The number of top artists living in the limelight of Louis‘ liberal yet fastidious court is remarkable, yet it is fascinating how strongly the French style of Versailles – le goût français – affected other European courts. In a competition with Italy, its age-old cultural rival, the style of Versailles surprisingly won the leadership of European cultural development on the edge of Baroque, Rococo and Classicism in contrast with the Italian innovative and spontaneous, yet evanescent, artistic impact.
The name of today’s concert is the The Angel and the Devil. However, it could be also titled Marais and Forqueray or the Great Battle. The two most famous musical rivals of the Golden Age of French Baroque were the subject of fanatical and respectful gossip, arguments and curses almost everywhere in Europe at the end of the 17th and in the first half of the 18th century.
References to the angel and the devil, personified by Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray, may be found in many 17th and 18th century medias, newspapers, enyclopaedias and embarrassing public proclamation and pamphlets.
However, this does not affect the fact that both these gamba virtuosi and composers, together with Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Jean-Féry Rebel, François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau, are the best of what French baroque presented to the rest of the world.
The elaborate nuances of heavenly compositions by Marais seem to copy the fine filigree of the Baroque pargeting of the Versailles chateau. In his pieces for viola da gamba – piéces de viole – the modern language of Lully’s tragédie lyrique is intermingled with the intimacy and introversion very well known from the works by François Couperin. In his extensive works (about 600 works for viola da gamba, four operas, trio sonatas, and many lost works), Marais reached an ideal balance of melodic animation, sophisticated harmony and mastered form. The virtuosical aspect of his works remains hidden behind the curtain of le bon goût, enabling the melodies to flow naturally, almost effortlesly without a hint of Italian fire.
On the contrary, his major rival in music, a terror to all booze joints in Paris as well to his own family, Antoine Forqueray, clearly augured another of the „musical devils“: Paganini.
He fascinated Baroque spectators with enormous and open virtuosity in the same extent as Marin Marais, but the reason was completely different: While Marais presented pure music with no dark elements (with the exception of melancholy and sadness), Forqueray became famous for diabolically bold and extravagant style of playing his piéces de caractére which he sometimes even improvised
Tonight’s concert is an attempt to reconstruct an imaginary music duel between the two viol virtuosi, Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray, while I am selfish enough to play the role of both musicians, though using just one instrument and playing with only one pair of hands.
If the fight was real, this task would be impossible – though in music, almost everything is possible!
© Petr Wagner
On the programme:
Antoine Forqueray: Allemande La Laborde
Marin Marais (1656-1728): La Polonaise
Antoine Forqueray: La Couperin
Marin Marais: Plainte
Antoine Forqueray: La Forqueray
Marin Marais: Le Badinage
Antoine Forqueray: La Regente
Antoine Forqueray: La Portugaise
Jean-Baptiste Forqueray: La Angrave
Marin Marais: La Guitarre
Antoine Forqueray: Jupiter
Marin Marais: l’Arabesque