The Four Nations Ensemble

Charles Brink, flute
Loretta O'Sullivan,
cello
Andrew Appel,
keyboard and director

Special Guests

June Huang, violin

Dominique Labelle, soprano

Saturday, July 14, 2012

program

From the Salon to the Guillotine

A Special Bastille Day Concert
Celebrating the French Baroque

Music of Couperin, Leclair, Schobert: a selection of magazine songs and
Medée, a cantata of Clérambault

tomorrow

Sunday, July 15, 4 pm | Latitude 41
Music for piano trio by Schubert, Saint-Saens, and Tchaikovsky

 

next week

Saturday, July 21, 8:00 pm

The 2012 Woodstock Beat:
Peter Schickele in concert.
This brilliant composer, musicologist, and raconteur will perform in a benefit concert for the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild.
Tickets for this concert are only available directly from the Woodstock Guild at 845-679-2079.
Maverick tickets are not valid.

Sunday, July 22, 4 pm | Leipzig Quartet

Music of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, and César Franck

 

 

 


LOGO

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Founded in 1986, The Four Nations Ensemble brings together leading exponents of period instrument and vocal performance. With a core ensemble of harpsichord or fortepiano, violin(s), flute, and cello, the Ensemble performs the major masterpieces of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Four Nations has performed at major houses and series throughout the US including the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center. The Ensemble has participated in festivals including the Boston Early Music Festival, New York's Mostly Mozart, New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Virginia Waterfront International Arts Festival, Chautauqua, and Brasilseguridade in Rio de Janeiro.

The group has developed special programs for the 92nd Street Y, and its interest in the interrelationship of music, art, and literature has also led to performances for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Center for British Art at Yale University, and the Bard Graduate Center.

Four Nations distinguishes itself with imaginative and innovative programming, at times pairing music of Purcell and Schönberg, Haydn with Cajun fiddling, or Couperin with Chinese Court Music. At the 1996 Chamber Music America conference, Andrew Appel was asked to lead a seminar demonstrating the possibilities in the juxtaposition of music from very different cultures.

The Ensemble's public school program, Noteworthy, provides a week-long residency, particularly in under-served communities, with elementary or middle school children to integrate the arts into the regular curriculum. Starting in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Noteworthy has worked with children in Minnesota, Colorado, Texas, and Hudson, New York. This program was featured in articles in Musical America and Early Music America.

The Ensemble gives professional workshops in performance practice and lecture demonstrations connecting classical music to the larger arena of humanities studies at colleges and universities throughout the country.

June Huang, violin, performs frequently at the Kennedy Center, the Music Center at Strathmore, and the Washington National Cathedral. A critically acclaimed baroque violinist, she is a principal player and records regularly with Opera Lafayette, Folgers Consort, Modern Musick, the Vivaldi Project, and Arcanum. She is concertmaster of the National Cathedral Baroque Orchestra and Cathedra. Ms. Huang is a faculty member of the Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp and the Red Lodge Music Festival. She is founder and director of the String Camp and Strings Plus chamber music festivals at the Levine School of Music. She holds a Master of Music degree from the University of California, and is a former member of the Cascade String Quartet.

Dominique Labelle, soprano, has performed extensively throughout the US, Canada, and Europe, including appearances with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Classical Orchestra, San Francisco's Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, and ten performances at the Göttingen Festival in Germany. Her recording of Handel's Arminio won the 2002 Handel Prize. She has collaborated with Nicholas McGegan, Iván Fischer, Jos van Veldhoven, and the Pulitzer Prize winning composer Yehudi Wyner. She also treasures her long association with the late Robert Shaw. Ms. Labelle has taught master classes at Harvard University, McGill, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts.

 


 


 


ABOUT THE MUSIC

From the Salon to the Scaffold
—Program Notes by Andrew Appel

I prefer that which touches me to that which surprises me.
François Couperin (1668-1733)

I prefer the bizarre to the insipid.
Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824)

Nothing [happened]
Journal entry for July 14, 1789, Louis XVI

July 14th is the day we recognize as the boundary between the Old Regime and the new, republican world of France. But this Revolution is only one manifestation of a large social movement traceable in all facets of society. Art, music, literature, city life, even food change throughout the 18th century in a metamorphosis of values and power.

HISTORY LESSON I
Louis XIV distrusted and disliked the nobility. His brother, cousins, and distant relatives all represented a greedy threat to his position of absolute power in France. Recent history taught him that a brother could not be trusted (his father Louis XII and uncle Gaston were always in crisis and competition). His frightful experience of the Fronde, a war in which the nobility wanted to wrestle power from the king, had him imprisoned in the Palais Royal while the streets of Paris became death traps for him and his supporters.

Louis XIV trusted the enterprising, upcoming middle class. These wealthy entrepreneurs who figured out how to sail the new seas of commerce and industry garnered Louis' respect and were, for the moment, uninterested in taking his power.

As he matured, Louis created a utopia of social and artistic delights for his nobles, robbing them of any political appetite or aspirations and filling them with courtly (frou-frou) values. Versailles became a most magnificent and unnatural gilded cage. Positions of decision and power went, one by one, to middle class brain trusts.

Both the nobility and the new bourgeoisie owed everything to the King and thus a perfectly balanced triangle was formed. At the two lower points, the bourgeoisie and nobility on either end looked up to the King for entitlement and advancement and looked at each other with jealousy and distain. Louis had the country in his control, in the palm of his hand. It was brilliant and explains his famous line, "the state is me."

It was a fragile balance. It could not last. Louis XV's famous line, "after me, the flood" understands the fragility of this social order. That order collapses in 1789. The middle class realizes that their wealth and canny working of the modern industrializing world is all they need to hold power. The king has become simply the leader of the entitled nobility, for whom they have little respect or patience. The nobles are mostly poverty stricken and both incapable and disdainful of real work. Louis XVI simply can't grasp the change in power and align himself wisely to maintain his position.

OFF WITH THEIR HEADS.

SOME MUSIC
Music from the gilded cage court of Versailles is poetic, rarely dynamic. It presents us with a glimpse of the exquisite. All our passions are expressed in refined, tender, gentle ways. No large waves, no suggestion of great change, no rocking the boat on the canal as we might glide gently towards the setting sun, through the gardens and away from the marble and golden stone of the Chateau's façade.

François Couperin, in any movement, takes us to a place in our heart, treats us to a gentle perfume and array of delightful colors, enlivened as one note or a sweet unexpected harmony turns a smile into a sigh, or allows a golden ray of sunshine to emerge from a cloudy sky. He moves us but never shocks us in this courtly world of fragile beauty. If the music of 1714 seems always slightly melancholy and if the paintings of Watteau barely hide a constant sigh it is because, as Verlaine says in one of his poems looking back to these times, "they don't believe their own happiness."

Jean Marie Leclair incorporates elegance of courtly expression. But Leclair is an early matinee idol, a precursor of Paganini, an entrepreneur wishing to grab the imagination of a public made up of middle-class music lovers who want to be wowed. There is exaggerated expression and surprises in harmony that might annoy Couperin's perfectly ordered world but delight in the less exquisite life of the Parisian ticket buyer. Our flute sonata tonight does not shock as much as the violin works that Leclair used to astonish, but it does reside half way between the music room of Mme. de Maintenon and the public concert hall of the rising families of Paris.

The most dangerous person in this carefully balanced courtly world is the one who cannot control his or her passions. She is an object of frightful fascination and Medea's personality and story have the attraction and appeal of a roadside disaster to which our eyes are drawn and our minds want to, but cannot, avoid.

Clérambault in his cantata Medée examines the fire, passion and poison of the uncontrolled heart, its danger and its dynamism and appeal. Clérambault introduces us to Medea as she contemplates the upcoming wedding of Jason with his newfound princess and we listen to the tortured soul that vacillates between helpless love, abandonment and intense fury. Unsuccessful pleas to heaven and love for help are followed by answered incantations to hell and its demons for revenge. For all its brilliant vocal writing and exciting accompaniment, please keep that woman away from Versailles!

HISTORY LESSON II
Marriage in the 16th and 17th century was a contract between families that secured lands, money and power. Romance was not a consideration and effect on the heart was rarely considered. The nobleman's house was in the shape of a squared off U. The bottom of the U presented the entrance into the home, the public rooms in which both families represented by husband and wife, presented themselves as a unified corporation to the public. Each of the far off wings was the wife's private apartments and the husband's. Their intimate lives took place as far apart from each other as the building could allow.

The middle class copied the form of the noble building but redefined the purpose of the structure. The dining room was placed in front, replacing the most formal salons. Here, husband and wife would meet for each meal with their children and enjoy the most intimate and loving times of the day. Husband and wife, at the end of each day walked into one side of the building to sleep together in their single bedroom. Family time and committed personal relationships were the stuff of middle-class values. This was foreign to both Louis XIV and XV. But Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, as well as George III in England, preferred these values and changed their lives to accommodate a new domestic happiness. In the Le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's private dwelling, the dining room is the central, magnificent living space.

Other than unleashed passion, CHANGE was the great fear of the nobility at Versailles. These people were born to entitlement from a distant past without a rational explanation for their good fortune. Any change could only mean separation from this socially elite position and so change is a nightmare. For the middle class, change means improvement. Each year, decade, and generation seems to benefit from a changing city and world. Money and control increase as the vision of the world modulates. A dynamic society promises new and better tomorrows.

SOME MUSIC
As the Parisian, music hungry audiences, emulating noble accomplishments, learned to sing and play, magazines for music appeared in town. Each week a series of pages were printed and sent out to subscribers who would find favorite songs from recent operas, overtures and sets of variations for keyboard, often with violin, and new songs on recent books or events. Both Les Liaisons Dangereuses and the translation of Goethe's Werther were met with songs to be sung by young Parisians who were moved to tears, and in the case of the Goethe novel, to suicide! Here the emotions are not restrained nor elegant but strong and sentimental.

Instrumental music reflects the dynamic qualities of the rising middleclass and rejects the static yet highly poetic nature of courtly art. Far from feeling this old music exquisite, the new audience heard it as insipid. Action, development, energy become the qualities that seize the imagination. Composers begin their great migration from Couperin to Berlioz, from the touching to the bizarre, from the salon to the scaffold!

Program Notes © 2012 by Andrew Appel