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Saturday morning quotes 8.18: Airs de cour II

June 26, 2021

Mignarda’s prolegomenous CD release featured a collection of French airs de cour and we have over the years often revisited and expanded upon our catalogue of this wonderful repertory. When the term air de cour is mentioned, those familiar with historical music for voice and lute instantly think of the series of publications that appeared between 1608 and 1632 which included 15 volumes of Airs de différents autheurs avec la tablature de luth, popular airs extracted from courtly entertainments and arranged for solo voice accompanied by the lute. But the term first appeared much earlier in a publication by Adrian Le Roy, Airs de cour miz sur le luth, published in 1571.

Le Roy (c.1520 – 1598), the rather cunning fellow pictured above, was well-connected at court and had familiar conference among preeminent poets including Ronsard and celebrious composers including Lassus. He used his connections to procure a royal patent to publish music beginning in 1551, in partnership with his cousin Robert Ballard (c.1527 – 1588), producing an enormous output of high quality music editions over the span of nearly fifty years. Le Roy was in a position to have an unusually influential role in promoting music and determining popular taste:

“Le Roy’s 1574 letter to Lassus describes a musical session when the printer had music by Lasso performed for Charles IX, who was so delighted with the piece that he instructed Le Roy to print it.”

Jeanice Brooks, Courtly Song in Late Sixteenth-Century France, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2000, p. 28.

Le Roy’s delightful music for solo lute demonstrates the direct influence of the famous Albert de Rippe (c. 1500 – 1551), displaying much rhythmic vitality and ample use of arpeggiation technique applied in a manner that implies a polyphonic interpretation. This style was later called style brisé, a term concocted by 20th-century musicologists to describe broken chordal technique, but the style was based upon a subtle interpretive technique that highlights and accentuates the strands of polyphony in a way particular to the character and resources of the lute. A word about use of the term style brisé:

“Although the word brisé was used in the seventeenth century to distinguish a type of ornament, the term style brisé was apparently coined in the twentieth century. After an exhaustive search through dictionaries, lexicons, theoretical treatises, practical sources, and contemporary accounts, I am unable to find a single example of the term style brisé used in any previous century.”

From the evidence given one may conclude that the terms style brisé and style luthé are modern ones and have little to do with the terms brisé and luthé as they were used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

David J. Buch, “Style brisé, Style luthé,” and the “Choses luthées”, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 1, 1985, pp. 52, 66

In addition to his prodigious output of music for voices and for solo lute, Le Roy printed his Breve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tablature, conduire et disposer la main sur le luth (1567), a method that combined repertories by describing how to set vocal polyphony to be played on the lute. Along with the work of Vincenzo Galilei, this detailed description provides an historical example which we have put to good use in making many arrangements of historical vocal polyphony for solo voice and lute. Le Roy also left for posterity a treatise, Traicté de musique (1583), with chapters on the essential rules of counterpoint, consonance, dissonance, syncopation, cadences and modes.

The treatise demonstrates Le Roy’s mastery of musical composition, and his groundbreaking book of Airs de cour miz sur le luth displays this skill in his arrangement for solo voice and lute of airs found in Chansons de Pierre de Ronsard, Philippe Desportes, et autres, mises en musique par Nicolas de la Grotte, published by Le Roy & Ballard in 1569, two years earlier than Le Roy’s book of intabulations. For his intabulations of polyphonic chansons, Le Roy frequently took the tenor part of the original and transposed it up to replace the superius, which was incorporated with the remaining parts into the lute accompaniment. But for our example of La Grotte’s setting of a poem by Ronsard, Le Roy retained the original superius as shown below.

As can be seen in Le Roy’s adaptation of the chanson, the time signature was clarified to represent the music as triple-time throughout, with only the refrain at the close in tempus imperfectum diminutum. Although LeRoy published both depicted versions, it is interesting to note that he used the rather modern alternative to the (black) coloration typically used in notation of polyphonic music at the time when making his arrangement for solo voice and lute.

Le Roy’s important role in establishing what was to become an immensely popular musical form is little understood today, and most modern performers of historical music are content to explore the later series of airs published by the descendants of Le Roy and Ballard. We are pleased to announce the upcoming release of a new recording of airs de cour probing the earlier examples of the repertory of Le Roy as well as later airs by Boësset, Guédron, and Moulinié. This post offers just a glimpse of our research process into the music and its context: Stay tuned, and the results will hopefully be available for your listening pleasure in September 2021.

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