Le Concert Spirituel

Catherine Bott discusses the composers and perfomers associated with Le Concert Spirituel.

Catherine Bott, director of Le Concert Spirituel Herve Niquet, and Jean-Paul Montagnier from Nancy University, meet in the Tuileries garden, site of the former Tuileries Palace where the Concert Spirituel played in the Salle des Cent Suisses.

They talk about the composers and performers who were closely associated with this ensemble, the first concert organisation in France specialising in performance of French grands motets.

Repertoire includes music by Mondonville, Campra, Gilles and Leclair.

Episodes

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COTW01The Birth Of The Concert Spirituel20111205

Donald charts the early years of the Concert Spirituel.

This week Donald Macleod presents the work of not one composer but 27, from familiar names like Haydn, Mozart and Vivaldi to largely forgotten ones like Rigel, Dauvergne and Montéclair.

All of them rubbed shoulders in the 18th century's longest-running concert series, the Concert Spirituel, which started in Paris in the reign of Louis XV and continued uninterrupted until just after the French Revolution.

During this astonishingly rich 65-year period, music was undergoing a gradual transformation, from the end of the Baroque era to the beginning of the Classical - a process that's fully reflected in the programmes of the Concert Spirituel, all of which have been preserved in contemporary journals.

All week, Donald is joined in the studio by two leading authorities on the Concert Spirituel: conductor, scholar and editor Dr Lionel Sawkins; and Beverly Wilcox, an American Musicological Society fellow currently doing dissertation research in Paris.

Today's programme charts the early years of the Concert Spirituel, whose 'spiritual' aspect derives from the fact that the concerts took place on religious feast days.

These were days when the opera house was prohibited by law from opening its doors - a commercial opportunity eagerly grasped by the Concert Spirituel's first director, Anne Danican Philidor.

As it turned out, the early years of the series were a total financial disaster.

Philidor died in debt, and his successor, Jean-Joseph Mouret, was driven to bankruptcy and madness; but out of this difficult labour came the birth of an institution we now take for granted: the public concert.

For the first two decades or more, the musical backbone of the series was the grand motet, an appropriately lavish genre first cultivated at the court of the Louis XIV, the Sun King.

The pre-eminent composer of grand motets was Michel-Richard de Lalande, whose work stayed in the repertoire of the Concert Spirituel from its opening concert on 18 March 1725 right through to 14 June 1770; with more than 600 performances, Lalande's music was heard more often than that of any other composer in the entire series.

But an unadulterated diet of motets, however dazzling, would hardly have kept the punters coming, so to create a more varied menu there was instrumental music too - much of it Italian.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons turned up for its Parisian début on 7 February 1728; written only five years earlier, it was then something it now hasn't been for a very long time - contemporary music!

COTW02Telemann Comes To Town20111206

Donald Macleod explores the second phase of the Concert Spirituel.

Today's programme looks at the second phase of the Concert Spirituel, marked by the administration of the Académie Royale de Musique (that is, the Paris Opera), who rescued the whole enterprise from collapse following the financial calamities suffered by the first directors.

The concerts' venue continued to be the Salle des Cent Suisses of the Tuileries Palace, which until its destruction in 1871 stood next to the Louvre.

The hall was cavernous, which made it more suitable for some musical instruments than others.

One that came to be favoured was the new-style Italian violin, whose piercing tone carried far better in that enormous space than that of the old-fashioned viola da gamba.

This promoted the growth of a new school of French violin virtuosos, foremost amongst them Jean-Marie Leclair, who made dozens of appearances at the Concert Spirituel, often in concertos of his own composition.

(He was to meet a violent end in 1764 - stabbed in the back, perhaps in some family dispute.) A prominent musical visitor to Paris in 1738 was the composer Telemann, who attended performances at the Concert Spirituel of his grand motet Deus judicium tuum, which, he recorded in his diary, "was performed twice in three days by almost 100 select musicians".

He also wrote a series of 'Paris Quartets' in the city, several of which were performed at the Concert Spirituel in the 1740s.

Another fascinating figure is Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, who took the unconventional step of selling his compositions direct to the public rather than going the traditional route and finding himself a wealthy patron - as a result of which he became extremely wealthy himself.

Two names not so familiar nowadays are Michel Pignolet de Montéclair and Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, who after Lalande was the second most frequently performed composer in the 65 years of the series.

COTW03Pergolesi Soars; Rameau Flops20111207

Donald Macleod on the Academie Royale de Musique ceding control of the Concert Spirituel.

Today's programme sees the Académie Royale de Musique giving up control of the Concert Spirituel and placing it back in private hands: those of the violinist Gabriel Capperan and the composer Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, whose widow took his place when Royer died a few years later.

Two of the most striking musical arrivals of this period (1748-62) were foreign: Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Johann Stamitz.

Pergolesi didn't arrive in person - he'd been dead since 1736 - but his Stabat Mater made a tremendous impact at its first performance at the Concert Spirituel in 1753, going on to become the single most played work of the series; it clocked up more than 80 performances in 37 years.

Stamitz spent a year in Paris, from 1754-5.

He was evidently well thought of and well-connected, since he joined Parisian society at the very top, lodging with the appropriately named Alexandre-Jean-Joseph Le Riche de La Pouplinière - an enormously wealthy tax collector who had the money and inclination to become a serious patron of the Arts.

No less than Rameau spent 22 years in his household, as director of his private orchestra, an arrangement that came to an end in 1753.

Rameau's name crops up with surprising infrequency in the programme listings of the Concert Spirituel.

His grand motet In Convertendo is a rare exception; it was poorly received, and it may have been that reception that encouraged him to revise it into the magnificent work we know today.

COTW04Mozart Makes His Mark20111208

Donald Macleod focuses on skullduggery and underhand negotiations at the Concerts.

Today's programme starts with skullduggery - the underhand negotiations which saw the widow Royer - who had been running the Concert Spirituel with partner Gabriel Capperan since the death of her husband seven years previously - ousted from the directorship and replaced with a triumvirate: Capperan; Antoine Dauvergne, superintendent of the King's Music; and Nicolas-René Joliveau, secretary of the Académie Royale de Musique.

Beyond skullduggery, Dauvergne's talents extended to composition; his Concerts de Simphonies are well worth reviving.

A celebrity visitor during these years was Luigi Boccherini, an internationally renowned cellist whose playing nonetheless failed to impress everyone.

According to one report, he played one of his own sonatas "masterfully"; according to another, "his sounds appeared harsh to the ears and his chords very unharmonious".

Approval for François Giroust, however, was unequivocal; in 1768, this maître de musique at Orléans Cathedral won both first and second prize in the Concert Spirituel's prestigious motet competition, and went on to become one of the most popular composers in the final phase of the series.

Like Giroust, Henri-Joseph Rigel is no longer a household name, but in the last quarter of the 18th century he was a major figure in Parisian musical life.

His oratorio La Sortie D'Egypte was performed no less than 27 times at the Concert Spirituel between 1775 and 1786.

On one of these occasions - 15 August 1778 - he shared the bill with an up-and-coming young composer from Salzburg who has remained a household name: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The work in question was his 'Paris' Symphony, specially written for the Concert Spirituel.

COTW05 LASTNot With A Bang But A Whimper - The End Of The Concert Spirituel20111209

Donald Macleod focuses on the final years of the Concert Spirituel.

Donald Macleod is joined for the last time this week by his studio guests Dr Lionel Sawkins and Beverly Wilcox to discuss the final years of the Concert Spirituel.

From 1777 the series was presided over by a new director, Joseph Legros, one of the most celebrated operatic singers of his day.

One of his chief innovations was a new emphasis on the work of contemporary composers, among them Mozart and JC Bach, but above all, Haydn - whose music had previously been played from time to time - now became the mainstay of the programming.

His Stabat Mater proved enormously popular, but it was his symphonies that received the lion's share of attention.

In most cases the concert listings don't specify which symphony was performed on what date, but on 13 April 1784 we are told that the "Symph.

où l'on s'en va" was heard - the one we know as the 'Farewell'.

The occasion was the last concert of the series to be held in the Salle des Cent Suisses, which had been the venue for the Concert Spirituel right from the start.

The new venue - still in the Tuileries Palace - was the Salle des Machines, and it remained home to the concert series until the end of 1789, when larger events intervened; in October of that year, the French royal family were forcibly removed from Versailles and installed in the Tuileries Palace, where they could be kept an eye on.

So the Concert Spirituel had to move again.

It kept going for a few more months, moving from one theatre to another, then simply fizzled out.

EMS20081206

Catherine Bott discusses the composers and perfomers associated with Le Concert Spirituel.

Catherine Bott, director of Le Concert Spirituel Herve Niquet, and Jean-Paul Montagnier from Nancy University, meet in the Tuileries garden, site of the former Tuileries Palace where the Concert Spirituel played in the Salle des Cent Suisses.

They talk about the composers and performers who were closely associated with this ensemble, the first concert organisation in France specialising in performance of French grands motets.

Repertoire includes music by Mondonville, Campra, Gilles and Leclair.