Tuesday, December 22, 2015

12 Works of Christmas - 10. Sébastien de Brossard's Symphonie de Noël

It's an understatement that Baroque music rarely gets featured on these blogs, as in point of fact Baroque music has never been featured on this particular blog - the closest I've gotten to that is Unico Wilhelm von Wassenaer's Concerti Armonici and those were Late Baroque at best.  Luckily for this series I found a Baroque piece that fits the bill, and because of my lack of experience with Baroque music I hadn't heard of the piece or its composer until only yesterday.  Sébastien de Brossard (1655-1730) was a composer, theorist and collector of manuscripts and books on music, and much of his surviving music appears to be sacred and secular vocal music, a genre we're not touching on today in the least.  Instead of his usual fare today we're looking at a seeming contradiction in terms - a Symphonie de Noël that's only three minutes long and is written for only three voices.

Back in the quite olden days a "symphony" was usually a short instrumental piece that was part of a larger work, and there was so much variance in what a symphony could be that the term was largely interchangeable with other formal terms.  This Symphonie de Noël carries a subtitle: "Joseph est bien marie", or "Joseph is married", though I'd be hard pressed to tell you where exactly in the music I can find anything Christmassy.  Like many instrumental pieces of the time the Symphonie is scored for two equal treble voices and a basso continuo, and in an original score bass line might carry figured bass markings (I'm pretty sure this isn't an original manuscript from the time).  While there is an obvious hierarchy with the treble voices the lines overlap and intertwine, the second voice often mirroring the first in such a way as to get higher than it, a common feature in music of this era and one that lends the piece a bit of charm.  The likability of the piece, while perhaps not apparent from looking at the score, is evident when performed by people who value zest in life, as do these performers (Ernst Stolz, recorder 1; Ernst Stolz, recorder 2; Ernst Stolz, viola da gamba; Ernst Stolz, organ).


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