Summer 2014, Vol. 70
Pastoraletta 1a, Amor Vince Ogni Cosa
H492, for 5 voices, 2 treble instruments and continuo
ed. SHIRLEY THOMPSON
Edition HH, HH 323.FSC,
Bicester, 2013 (pbk, £19.95) ISMN 979 0 708092 75 9
Amor Vince Ogni Cosa, and its companion Cupido perfido, dentr’al mio cuor, by Charpentier (c.1645-1704), are ‘Pastoralette’ in Italian for five and four solo singers respectively, accompanied by two unspecified treble instruments and basso continuo; an additional ripieno chorus not specified by the composer can also be accommodated. Shirley Thompson has edited these two pieces in two volumes, the first of which is reviewed here. Most of Charpentier’s music is preserved in the Méslanges autographes, but these pieces are exceptions, and are instead found in a 17th- or early 18th-century manuscript from the collection of Sébastien de Brossard.
Thompson’s informative article, available from the publisher’s website presents evidence to allay doubts that the two works might not be by Charpentier. She observes that the notation follows Charpentier’s distinctive practice fairly closely in several respects, while Cupido perfido includes an instance of self-quotation. The article also draws attention to a remarkable connection between the source and Brossard’s manuscript Catalogue des livres de musique. The catalogue contains an entry for the source whose wording further emphasises that both works are by Charpentier.
Amor Vince is a wonderful piece, and this meticulous edition of it is most welcome. Included with the edition are a short but informative introduction, detailed textual notes, and a transcription of the text separate from the score, with parallel English translation. The approach has been to present the music in a quasi-facsimile manner, with features such as the original time signatures, key signatures, and the use of void notation (croches blanche) retained. Void notation is often found in triple-time sections of 17th-century music to reflect tempi and/or tempo relationships with preceding common-time sections.
Apparent ‘inconsistencies’ in Charpentier’s practice and those of other French composers of this period make it difficult to apply hard and fast rules for performance practice. The use of void notation seems unnecessary, since tempo relationships are as easily represented by time signatures alone, combined or not with words such as ‘Lentement’. English composers of the same period were content to rely simply on time signatures, sometimes combined with descriptive words, to express different tempi and tempo relationships.
Accompanying guidance on interpreting aspects of the notation such as this is minimised, which may be off-putting for some, but this has the benefit of avoiding the imposition of any one point of view. Users of this edition will need to refer to the (now extensive) literature that exists on French notation practices, which has been cited partially in the introduction. One feature of the notation that would have benefited from further editorial intervention is the continuo figuration, which in some cases is inadequate. For instance, major thirds are not always indicated for secondary dominant chords, when not obvious from the part writing (as in bar 384).
The blend of Italian and French elements makes this music particularly attractive. For instance, in the one solo air, for the shepherdess Filli, ‘Andate, cercate la vostra ventura’, which is placed at the centre of the Pastoraletta, the relative lack of elaboration in the vocal writing recalls mid 17th-century Venetian composers such as Cavalli. However, its fruitier harmonic style, and its episodic structure, approaching the manner of a rondeau with couplets, are characteristically French. One recording of the work is known to me (on the disc Les Plaisirs Versaille from Les Arts Florissants (Erato, 2004)). It is to be hoped that with the appearance of this edition, the piece will be more widely performed and recorded.
We are grateful to the editor of The Consort for permission to reproduce this review.