Some thoughts on recording Airs Serieux


Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725)

Airs sérieux

Fuga Libera 736, June 2016

Leafing through the many anthologies of the airs of Jean-Baptiste Drouard de Bousset is like entering a forgotten world. Housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, the collections of Bousset’s airs sérieux immediately evoke the highly-codified world of the ruelle, the great incubator and predictor of artistic and musical taste amongst the elite of Paris in the seventeenth century and beyond. These salons were in effect mini, satellite courts, providing to their select members a reassuring level of elitism superior to the royal domain itself. The creation and performance of vocal airs was a collaborative, participatory activity. The art of polite conversation was central to the creative process of the texts to these airs, and singing them was the common currency.

In delving into the intimate realm of the air sérieux, the decision to record a selection by Bousset was an easy one. The quality of the musical composition is paramount and the opportunity to breathe life into the repertoire of a prolific composer who has been, by and large, forgotten by modern listeners made the choice irresistible.

Centring around the topic of love and with each air generally possessing one mood, this delicate repertoire represents all the refinement and elegance of French musical style. With some exceptions, each of the brief airs on this recording is accompanied by two theorbos and viola da gamba, instruments which are listed on the inventory taken of Bousset’s possessions on his death.

The choice of these mobile, portable instruments as the sound kernel of the recording sits comfortably with the historical status of singing at the time as an activity in which the elite participated with enthusiasm, faithful to the idea that at any given moment, whether or not around the organised formality of a harpsichord, and whether for diversion, a game, seduction, a show of gratitude or a demonstration of one’s eduction, one could be called on to sing. Baroque musicians were improvisers and arrangers par excellence, and the performance of several of Bousset’s multi-voice airs for viol consort is testament to the do-it- yourself nature of the time. The airs are performed in historical French, prepared under the guidance of Nicole Rouillé, and the spelling and punctuation in the texts have been faithfully reproduced from the original as printed in the Ballard editions.

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