The Loveable Combination of New and Old
François Fernandez ja Antti Tikkanen, orchestral direction; Topi Lehtipuu, tenor
SUITE 1: Rameau
Ouverture (Naïs, 1749)
Air tendre (Les fêtes d'Hébé, 1739)
Orage (Platée, 1745)
Chaconne (Dardanus, 1739)
Jukka Tiensuu: MORA (2012)
SUITE 2: Lully, vaiko...? / Lully, oder...?
Ouverture (Roland, 1685)
Jukka Tiensuu: Veto (Musica Ambigua, (1996–1998)
Marche des Assiegeants (Alceste, 1675)
Air pour les matelots (Alceste)
Passacaille (Armide, 1686)
Rameau: Lieux Funestes (Dardanus)
If “all the world’s a stage”, then the greatest of these stages in the Baroque era was the Sun King’s court in Versailles. In order to highlight their social status, nobility made a grandiose display of their lavish lifestyle through gestures, language, and clothing. In this kind of world, art naturally became exceptionally versatile. French baroque opera was the culmination of court spectacle, as well as a more versatile body of work when compared with the Italian operas of the time. French Classicist drama, cunning portrayals of mythology, energetic dances, and glamorous crowd scenes were intertwined with choral and instrumental landscapes to create an unique blend of the opulent arts thriving at the time.
France has always been a melting pot, and there is no better example of this than the “Father of French baroque opera”: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687), born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, Italy. As the Sun King’s personal opera composer, he shaped France’s very own genre of opera, creating sublime and surprisingly lyrical tragedies (tragédie en musique) from ancient mythology. Only after Lully’s death were new composers’ abilities able to emerge, and the palette of the operatic genre expanded to include comic and pastoral operas.
After Lully, the prestigious position fell to the introverted master of orchestration, Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), who devoted the last 30 years of his life to opera. Through his body of work, he gave birth to a new kind of French opera, whose harmonic daring and imagination astonished his contemporaries. Rameau's operas, with their diversity and integrity, created the highest form of a well-rounded drama, which in turn influenced modern opera even more than Gluck’s “reform” operas.
While Italian baroque opera is often dominated by virtuosic solo arias, French opera is a complete work of art in which everything serves the drama and imagination. Orchestral movements, which play a key role in this genre, also form the basis for this concert. These French baroque operas are full of dance scenes, atmospheric interludes, tableaux (such as “Orage”, or “Tempest”, from the opera Platée), as well as choir movements, trios, and duos. Recitatives are dramatically expressive, and arias are deepened by a highly charged psychological drama. For example, in Lully’s Armide, the title role (an unhappy sorceress) struggles between enchanted and genuine love, while the touching “Lieux funestes” from Rameau’s Dardanus reflects Dardanus’ despair in captivity.
French baroque opera’s vast gallery of characters comprises of both historical heroes as well as heroes who are allegorical characters, incarnations, mythological divinity, and supernatural beings. The subject matter usually comes from antiquity – with the exception of Lully’s Roland and Armide, which are based on a Renaissance epic poem and the medieval “chivalric romance” genre respectively. The use of a mythological, distanced, and unreal world gives the opportunity for playful fantasy, symbolism, and self-aware framing. As a rule, lyrical tragedies begin with an allegorical introduction, which often refers to current issues – for example, in the introduction of Lully’s Alceste, Naiads (water nymphs) await the return of the French king from the battle in the Franche-Comté region. In the genre of comic operas, the prologue typically frames the story, thereby creating a small “opera within an opera”. Rameau’s comedy Platée, a story about an ugly marsh nymph (a high tenor role “en travesti”), opens with a narrative introduction, in which the deities decide to act out Platée’s story.
Opéra-ballet was a lighter genre which consisted of several separate episodes imaginatively framed within the larger narrative. This genre is represented by Rameau’s Les fêtes d’Hébé (The Celebrations of Hébé, the Goddess of Youth), where Hébé witnesses different festivities celebrating the arts.
For this concert, the Finnish Baroque Orchestra’s artistic director Antti Tikkanen has put together an “opera fantasy”, which explores the links between Lully and Rameau’s operatic works, as well as Jukka Tiensuu’s compositions. Tiensuu (b. 1948) is known for his mystique: he refuses to describe his compositions with words, but rather gives them ambiguous names, which often take advantage of various features of the Finnish language: hence Mora and its movements “Vaiko”, “Voiku”, and “Raiku”.
Mora, a work presented for the first time in 2012, is Finland’s first work for baroque orchestra. This should come as no surprise, however, since as a well-known harpsichord player, Tiensuu has long been a pioneer in writing modern music for baroque instruments in Finland. Already in the mid-1990s, he composed a 6-movement suite for baroque instruments entitled Musica ambigua which, as the name suggests, explores a very vague border: it asks how a modern composer could approach historically informed performance and create music which is not simply new music in an old style, but at the same time not music without roots.
Mora is an extremely important milestone for Tiensuu, as it is his first work using voice. Mora creates a fitting picture of Tiensuu’s inventive and playful style, which at times draws inspiration from the baroque era or parodies its mannerisms. A certain self-awareness can be found in the orchestral use of space: in Mora, Tiensuu carries visible waves from one end of the orchestra to the other.
Mora and the work which followed it, a coloratura concerto composed for Anu Komsi entitled Voice Verser, have much in common. Both soloists are not vocal singers, only performers who create human sounds, which play around in a way reminiscent of baroque rhetoric. Mora was composed not only for the baroque orchestra, but also for the baroque aesthetic. Speech, Affects based on emotional expression, and the mutual imitation of instruments and the human voice and are the bases for Mora. The tenor is not a soloist, but rather the axis around which the musical work rotates, who inspires the players by laughing, sighing, shouting, and imitating the instrument’s puffing and muttering. The beginning of the second movement becomes a self-ironic play as the orchestral tuning becomes part of the work. When period instruments explore a modern alternative way of creating new sounds, old and new come together in a surprising way.