France Music

France Music and Culture



The first evidence of musical expressions in the French region dates back to ancient times, but only with the development of Gallican chant did an autonomy from the Roman tradition begin to emerge. When, towards the end of the century. VIII, Pepin the Short and then Charlemagne imposed the Roman rite, the Gallican chant was lost, except perhaps re-proposed as a component of the subsequent expressions born in the monasteries of Metz and, starting from the century. IX, in the Benedictine abbeys (Saint-Amand, Saint-Martial of Limoges, Jumièges etc.). Here developed the guidelines that would largely determine the development of music in the Middle Ages, first of all the practice of the trope and sequence. The conductus originated from the trope (initially only melodic and with rich melisms, then also polyphonic), many troubadour experiences and above all the dialogued trope which, sung in Saint-Martial during Easter morning, was set as the starting point of a rapid evolution towards the genre of liturgical drama, frequent in Reims, Beauvais, Saint-Martial and later transformed into the sacred representation and enriched with profane and parody elements. From the sequence, also identified for the most part in Saint-Martial, many profane experiences derived: the chant, composed in honor of saints or heroes, of a substantially melodic lyric character; the lai, widespread towards the century. XII by Gautier de Dargiese and Gautier de Coincy and then taken up and perfected by G. Dufay; the planh (lamented) in a very variable form. Also from Saint-Martial came the versus (direct precursor of the vers), which with the chanson constituted the formal basis of the experiences of the French troubadours, handed down in the verses (in all about 130 works) and only approximately in the music. The art of the troubadours (13th century) was expressed in northern France in more differentiated formal schemes (rotrouenge, rondeau, virelai, ballade), which formed the basis of many musical genres up to the Renaissance and of the polyphonic elaborations of Adam de la Halle, G. Binchois, G. de Machaut, G. Dufay. In the field of representative music of an exclusively secular nature, particular importance was given to Adam de la Halle’s Jeu de Robin et Marion (ca. 1285), a delicate pastoral entertainment. At the same time, the first attempts at sacred polyphony developed, also germinated in Saint-Martial. From the melismatic organum, practiced in this abbey since the century. X, the experiences of the so-called School of Notre-Dame originated in Paris (from 1150 ca.), by Magister Albertus and Léonin, mythical author of the fundamental Magnus Liber Organi. Pérotin also belonged to the school who, keeping in mind contemporary English solutions, created three and four part writing (triple and quadruple), now endowed with considerable solidity of conception and relative independence between the voices. He also perfected the clause, elaborating on it the new form of the motet, initially characterized by the fact of having a different rhythm and text (in Latin or in vernacular) for each voice. With Pérotin, the aforementioned Adam de la Halle, Franco of Paris, were known authors of motets and, towards the end of the century. XIII, Pierre de la Croix (Petrus de Cruce), the last exponent of the so-called Ars antiqua.


At the beginning of the century. XIV was active at the University of Paris Francone da Cologne, which is credited with having conceived a mensural musical notation (ca. 1260) which had European resonance and which, with the famous treatise of Philip of Vitry, practically marked the birth of Ars nova. Developed above all at the papal court of Avignon, rich in exchanges with Italian experiences, the new current had its greatest and brilliant French exponent in Guillaume de Machaut, author of compositions characterized by a remarkable rhythmic freedom, by a less constrained and more imaginative use of polyphony, by new and more varied harmonic solutions and, finally, by the marked taste for profane forms such as the ballade, the rondeau, the virelai, already set with the troughs but renewed and revived by him. In the same years there was a notable evolution of the chasse, a favorite terrain of the Mannerist school that followed Machaut, important for having paved the way for the so-called Burgundian school (from the name of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, at whose court it was formed). The most significant exponents of this were G. Dufay and G. Binchois, who are credited with creating the French chanson, a new genre of polyphonic song that also took into account the acquisitions of F. Landini in Italy and J. Dunstable in England. Heirs and continuers of the Burgundian school were first J. Ockeghem, then the great J. Després. In the sec. XVI, in the growing splendor of the Parisian court, Claudin de Sermisy and above all C. Jannequin, leading exponents of a new genre of chanson, the chanson parisienne, which enjoyed universal fame (also thanks to the contemporary spread of the musical press), was widely imitated and only at the end of the century was it supplanted by the new taste for homophonic dances and arias: vaudeville (from which the air de cour was born), bergerette, chansonnette. With the spread of the new dances, a very remarkable repertoire of lute music was established, above all on the air de cour scheme, while a thriving current of organists (Titelouze, Costeley) grew rapidly, on which the great classical French tradition for keyboard instruments. Before moving on to seventeenth-century music, the debut of the representative ballet should be noted, which took place with the Balet comique de la Royne, created in 1581 by the Piedmontese impresario, choreographer and composer Baltazarini. The French musical theater, however, was born more properly with GB Lulli Florentine by birth, updated on Venetian operaism and on the contemporary great moment of the French theater of Corneille, Racine, Molière. In the opera sector the presence of Lulli was decisive, alongside that of M.-A. Charpentier (disciple of Carissimi in Rome), MR de Lalande, A. Campra, F. Couperin, who also worked effectively in the field of sacred music. A valid purely instrumental tradition also developed at the court of the Sun King. The king had at his service the famous ensemble of 24 violons du roi, made up of great virtuosos, performers of those “symphonies” which, with the great overtures theatrical works of Lulli, gave rise to the French concert (J. Aubert, J.-M. Leclair) and sonata (F. Couperin, Senaillé). From the rich lute tradition of the previous century derived the taste for the succession of dances of identical tonality, a genre readily identified with the name of suite française and widely adopted in harpsichord music by d’Anglebert, Lebègue, d’Andrieu, de Grigny, Gigault. Above all, Couperin excelled, who brought keyboard music to a place of absolute pre-eminence in Europe.

France Music