MICHEL PIGNOLET DE MONTECLAIR (1667-1737)
Vocal and Instrumental Music
Quatrieme Concert for Oboe, Harpsichord, and Bass Viol; Cantata: La Badine; Cantata: Pan and Sirinx.
Judith Nelson, Soprano
Jacques Vandeville, Oboe
William Christie, Harpsichord
Ariane Maurette, Bass Viol
The MHS Review 236 Vol. 3, No. 2 March 5, 1979
BY David M. Greene
In 1646 the Chevalier de Guise, returning from Florence, brought his young cousin, Anne Marie Louise d'Orleans, the present she had asked for: a little Italian to teach her his language. The little Italian, called Giambattista Lulli (or something of the sort), was a fourteen-year-old street urchin with brains, talent, ambition, and no scruples. He changed his name to Jean-Baptiste Lully, worked his way into the court and the bosom of Louis XIV with ruthless diplomacy, and when Cardinal Mazarin, France's Italian eminence grise, died, made himself France's musical dictator. He thereupon decreed, in keeping with Louis' world-view, that French culture, being superior to all others, had no need of the barbarous music that people kept importing from Italy, and henceforth would produce nothing but its own, based on le bon gout (i.e. good taste.)
One of the typical phenomena of the New Music in seventeenth-century Italy was the cantata. It was not then--as it is now--a big choral piece; rather it was, for want of a better term, an extended song consisting of airs (melodic segments) in different moods, linked by recitatives. It usually implied an action or at least a human situation, condition, or dilemma. It was therefore basically dramatic and was, in fact, not far removed from the operatic scena, and many a French composer found the concept attractive. As early as the 1680's, a few Italian-tainted anti-Lullists, such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier, seem to have been fooling around with the form. The chief impetus to its popularity, however, was pretty clearly the poet-playwright Jean-Baptist Rousseau, a rather nasty fellow who was eventually kicked out of France for his insistence on writing libelous satires on important people. Rousseau posited the cantate francaise as a musico-poetic form in which the two elements were inseparable, and proceeded to write lyrics, based on classical myth, for such treatment. The first composer to collaborate with him is said to have been Jean-Baptiste Morin (whose elaborate hunting cantate may be heard on MHS 1137). But after him came the deluge. (How the Muse inspires me!)
The deluge included such more or less well-known composers as Bernier, Campra, Clerambault, Elisabeth Jacquet de LaGuerre, and, eventually, the great Rameau; it also included Michel Pignolet de Monteclair. Monteclair's name is not a household word these days. Born in Lorraine, he traveled to Italy as music-master to the Prince de Vaudemont, then settled in Paris. In 1707 he became a member of the orchestra at the Opera, playing the new-fangled contrabass. (Contrary to a repeated story, he was not the first to do so there.) He remained there for thirty years, retiring to his country estate outside of Paris when he was pensioned off. He wrote one opera, Jephte, the first biblical opera to be staged by the Academie, and one of the more successful opera-ballets, Les Festes d'ete (Summer Celebrations). He also produced a violin method and a historically important 4-volume Principes de musique. He wrote non-dramatic music in most popular forms, both vocal and instrumental, but it is beginning to be realized that his most charactertistic work is in his twenty cantates. In his recent French Baroque Music, James R. Anthony says that in his opinion they constitute a "repository of neglected masterpieces." To judge from the two examples on this record, Monteclair does a splendid job of "reuniting the tastes," imposing French melody (as derived from the air de cour) on Italian form. The longer work follows Rousseau's dictum in treating the story of Pan and Syrinx, the unwilling nymph who was converted into panpipes. It also demonstrates Monteclair's proclivity to paint musical pictures in a "hunting" aria." La Bodine (The Mischievous Girl), is about "the young and playful Lisette," whose very presence charms the birds and animals. Like her we should "love only for fun" but "too much love makes it a torment." The Couperinian concert is quite pleasant, and the long first movement something more than that.
No information on the performers is forthcoming, but the performances seem to me clean and stylish. This particularly applies to Miss Nelson. Despite her name, she has one of those pure, boyish French sopranos. Where required, it does acrobatics admirably; it also does some curious slides that I find very effective. Do they reflect some new discovery about performance practice?