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Text about "Simphonies pour les soupers du Roy", attached to the recording with the Orchestre de Chambre, conducted by Jean-Francois Paillard (not on authentic intruments like the wonderful recording by "La Simphonie du Marais", conducted by Hugo Reyne, but nevertheless a nice one which made this music popular again in the eighties):
Not many music-lovers realise that Michel-Richard de Lalande wrote no less than 18 orchestral suites, comprising 303 pieces, under the heading Simphonies pour les Soupers du Roy (or "Symphonies", according to another spelling, though the first serves to distinguish them from classical symphonic form). Admittedly, musicologists themselves may be forgiven for feeling at sea among the complexities of successive manuscript copies, as the collection grew from ten suites and 147 pieces initially (1703) to the complete version of 1727, via an arrangement in 12 suites (around 1715), which is now lost, but of which many traces remain in constantly readjusted versions. There is no point in giving numbers to suites if there is no indication of the manuscript to which it refers. The best solution would be for the 1727 set, as definitively etablished in the 1736-45 collection, to be adopted by everyone as the version of reference, since there is no doubt tat it is Lalande´s own preferred text.
The Concert de Trompettes pour les Festes sur le Canal de Versailles (Consort of Trumpets for the Festivities on the Canal at Versailles) may be consideres as the seed from which sprang Handel´s grand frescoes, the "Water Music" and the "Music for the Royal Fireworks". Though far more modest in its extent and in its Musical ambition, this short, highly coloured suite is a marvellous evocation of royal splendour. Water-borne amusements were a favourite of the French court up to the time of the marriage of the Dauphin, Louis XVth´s son, with Marie-Antoinette. It is not known in what exact circumstances this Trumpet Consort was written, but the scene may be easily imagined in the light of the many contemporary accounts. The term Caprices or Fantasies referred to compositions to be heard for their own sake, rather than dance-suites taken from the "Ballets" or "Divertissements", which made up the greater part of the Soupers (background music to ceremonial meals).
The First Caprice, in D major, is known as the Villers-Cotterets. It may have been composed for a journey by the court to the estate of that name. The manuscript indications are particularly laconic about instrumentation. The character of the music, and its tonality and obviously solemn purpose have led us to think that trumpets and kettledrums should be added to the wood -wind and strings. A proud overture, with its foretaste of Bach´s "Suites in D", grows gradually more lively as far as "Viste" (quickly) after passing through "Gracieusement" (gracefully) and "Un peu plus gay" (a little more gaily). Then follows an "Augmentation, premier air neuf" (first new air), added by Lalande in later years. Written as a minor-key "da capo" around a central section in the major, it runs into a "Vif, suitte de l´ancien" (brisk, to follow the old air). The "Trio", marked "Doucement", is an expressive piece in which the bassoon once more plays a lyrical melody: de Lalande, more than any other composer of the time, entrusted such passages to the instrument. The trio leads into an "Augmentation, deuxième air neuf" (second new air) in uneven rhythm, and the suite ends with a "Vivement, suitte de l´ancien" (Lively, to follow the old air) being another "da capo" piece, whose central section is an oasis od gentleness amid so many tumultuous fanfares.
La Deuxième Fantaisie ou Caprice que le Roy demandoit souvent (Second Fantasy or Capriccio, which the King often called for) is doubtless the earliest of these compositions. Calling on relatively sober instrumental forces (two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo), and shorter than the others, it had no "augmentations" added to it over the years. The first section of this fantasy, a three-section passage, is of particularly high quality. It opens with a Chaconne to an ostinato bass ("Un peu lent" - somewhat slow) recalling the finest of Henry Purcell; then comes a solid fugato, and then a G major "Doucement" (gently), sweetly elegiac, with a moving bassoon solo. Three linked pieces also make up the second section: a "Gracieusement" (gracefully), with much ornamented oboe solos to which the orchestra replies in plainer style, a "Gayement" (gaily) of more old-fashioned form, where the bassoon, yet again, is often prominent, and a "Vivement" (lively) in fugal form, with amusing applications of sesquialtera rhythm (a 3/4 within a 6/8).
Le Troisième Caprice, in D major, is not in Philidor´s copy (1703) and, consequently, sounds more "modern" than the others, seeming to cope from a composer who had learned to appreciate the Italian concerto: it may date from 1715-1720, in other words the time when Lalande was freed from the yoke the old king´s taste imposed in his art. The instrumentation is here specified by the indication "Tutti, violins, flutes and oboes" and numerous indications of "soli" and "tutti".
The introductory "Gracieusement" (gracefully", nobly serene, is followed by a most original air in the minor whose principal part is given to the bassoons in the tenor ("en taille", as contemporary usage had it). The "Presto", which follows, is written after the fashion of the "airs de démons" (airs for the demons) of Jean-Baptiste Lully´s operas. But the "Gigue", with its alternations of "solo-violin" and "tutti" is of much more up-to-date style. The summit is perhaps reached in the "Quatuor" (quartet) for two violin parts, bassoons and basses. The second violin ("haute-contre") and the figured bass are by the composer Rebel. It is clear that even at this period it was felt necessary to call on qualified musicians to complete scores that were too sketchy. A short "Prélude", with its sumptuous harmonies, links the quartet to the finale, a "Vif" (brisk) in solidly-built fugato form.
(Submitted by Robert Priewasser, Vienna/Austria <email@example.com>.)