France Baroque and Classical Music

By | December 27, 2021

At the center of the musical baroque (not only in France) were instrumental music and opera, each of which received significant impulses from Italy. However, this Mediterranean influence also provoked diverse protests in the following two centuries and divided the music scene into two camps. The instrumental music was breathing at the beginning of the 16th century partly still clearly the spirit of the Renaissance as J. Titelouze, who as the founder of the French organ music is true. The harpsichord works by J. Champion de Chambonnières and especially the harpsichord work by F. Couperin also show an independent musical language. In his organ and harpsichord compositions he combined the peculiarities of French piano music with a sense of sound and strongly pronounced ornamentation (while Rameau’s piano works gave up the connection to lute music that had been felt until then and established a new French piano style); in his chamber music and the trio sonatas, on the other hand, he already assimilated Italian stylistic elements such as J.-M. Leclair in his violin concertos.

There was also a gradual change in sacred music from the end of the 16th century to 1660. While the classical vocal polyphony was initially used at court and in the provinces, H. Du Mont introduced the figured bass and the concertante style. The orchestra gained special significance in the motets by J.-B. Lully. The masses, motets and oratorios by M.-A. Charpentier combine French and Italian style elements and, in addition to religious edification, also served as an absolutist representation. With M.-R. Delalande the great Versailles motet reached its climax as an expression of royal power.

Among the composers who staunchly defended the French tradition include M. Marais, who, in addition to operas, was particularly known for his viol works, and D. Gaultier with an important repertoire of lute music. France also shaped the style with the instrumental operas (French overtures, dances) by J.-B. Lully and his successors, who made a significant contribution to the development of their own orchestral style and thus ensured the French musicians a significant share in the pan-European development of symphonic music of the 18th century. An important forum for the performance of contemporary music, which increasingly attracted foreign artists such as G. P. Telelmann, G. B. Viotti, J. Haydn and W. A. ​​Mozart, were the Concerts spirituels, founded in Paris in 1725.

In addition, the Air de cour, a solo song with lute accompaniment, was widely distributed through the collections of the publisher Ballard. With the Ballet de Cour, a theatrical genre made up of music and dance, dramatic music took off. Attempts to set a French text with a coherent idea and plot to music have been dated since the middle of the 17th century, from which the French National Opera finally emerged. J.-B. In collaboration with Molière, Lully created the Comédie-ballet, which replaced the Ballet de Couras well as the tragédie lyrique, which – borne by the idea of ​​the total work of art – combines vocal music, which is strongly determined by language and close to declamation, with instrumental parts. Contemporaries and successors of J.-B. Lully, as M.-A. Charpentier, took up the tragedy lyrique, but the Opéra-Ballet came up after 1697, the action of which again gave the dance wide scope. A. Campra, Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (* 1667, † 1737) and A. C. Destouches were the most important composers in this field before J.-P. Rameau, who made a name for himself with his heroically accented great operas.

J.-P. Rameau is regarded as the most important musical personality of the 18th century, both as an opera composer and as a clavecinist and theorist, whose theory of harmony became the basis of all modern music theory. As a representative of a modern opera style, he provoked the traditionalists around J.-B. Lully and thus sparked the first opera dispute in history between “Lullistes” and “Ramistes” in 1735. Just two decades later, however, Rameau served as a figurehead of conservative opera circles who fought the advance of Italian style elements and the development of a new genre, the opéra comique. The starting point for the Buffonist dispute that ignited in 1752 was the guest performance of an Italian opera troupe with G. B. Pergolesis “La serva padrona”, which met the need of bourgeois circles for an entertaining opera instead of the heroic-pathetic great stage works. This opera controversy smoldered into the 1770s and then became between “Gluckists” – supporters of the reform operas written in French by the German C. W. Gluck  - and “Piccinists” – supporters of the Italian opera, whose leader was N. Piccinni to Paris had called – held.

The representatives of the comique Opéra include not only J.-J. Rousseau, who appeared in 1752 with his singspiel »Le devin du village«, the Italian Egidio Romualdo Duni (* 1709, † 1775) and F.-A. Philidor, P.-A. Monsigny and above all A. E. M. Grétry from Belgium.

Period of the Grand Opéra: The traditional Grand Opéra was also subject to Italian influences, which found its most important representative in L. Cherubini, who knew how to fuse the elements of serious and comic opera. He reformed the genre after CW Gluck’s model and left behind (alongside É. N. Méhul, F.-J. Gossec and J. F. Le Sueur) also traces as a composer of the specifically French “revolutionary” or “horror opera”. Like his colleagues, he also worked at the Paris Conservatoire, founded in 1795, which became the model for the numerous conservatories founded in the 19th century and which continues the strict training of instrumentalists in particular to this day.

France Baroque and Classical Music