Suite from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes


performed at Staunton Music Festival

August 12, 2017

Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA


Molly Quinn, Molly Netter, Derek Chester, Paul Max Tipton

SMF Baroque Players

Carsten Schmidt, conductor


violin: Aisslinn Nosky (leader), Maureen Murchie, Fiona Hughes, Martin Davids

viola: Jason Fisher, Kathleen Overfield-Zook, Kyle Miller    cello: Anna Steinhoff, James Wilson     violone: Erik Higgins

harpsichord: Mark Shuldiner     theorbo: David Walker     timpani: Brian Smith

oboe: Alek Fester, Margaret Owens    bassoon: Stephanie Corwin, Keith Collins    trumpet: Kris Kwapis


video by Stewart Searle





About the Music

Music has the power to take us to many times and many places.  Sometimes unfamiliar sounds carry us onward to an unknown landscape, brimming with novelty and wonder.  At other times, music calls us back into ourselves.  Like Proust’s tea-soaked madeleine, sensations triggered may unleash a flood of memories linking our present to an intimate past.  Music is not alone in having this power.  Yet because of its expressive indeterminacy, listeners from all walks of life can fall under its spell even though each may end up at very different destinations.


Centuries ago, when intercontinental travel meant a perilous journey lasting many months, art and music acted as postcards from exotic locales that most people would never experience firsthand.  As a case in point, consider the ballet-opera celebrating “The Amorous Indies” (Les Indes Galantes) by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764).  Written around 1735, this work pulls together unrelated scenes ranging from Turkey and Arabia to Peru and 17th-century North America.  Indeed, Rameau’s original inspiration stemmed from the appearance in Paris in 1725 of six Native American chiefs.  Their visit roughly corresponds to a “return to nature” movement among European aristocracy (later epitomized by Jean Jacques Rousseau). 


Despite this urge to primitivism and exotic allurements, listeners should not expect overt savagery from this music.  Rather the sounds are refined and gracious, at times scintillating.  We will hear an orchestral suite culled from Les Indes Galantes.  To get the fullest sense of the “Indies,” one must consider the intervening ballet numbers as well as their costumes.  Such depictions—Native American ritual dances, African slaves, Turkish Pasha—by a privileged white Frenchman necessarily run the risk of callous simplification.  At the same time, they provided everyday Europeans with a small glimpse at cultures beyond their own.


(c) Jason Stell, 2017





Related Content


VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Bach's "Maedchen, die von harten Sinnen," from Coffee Cantata

Bass Peter Walker takes on the role of Schlendrian, the curmudgeonly father in Bach's light-hearted secular cantata. Accompanied by the low strings of Anna Steinhoff and Heather Miller Lardin, along Keith Collins on contrabassoon and Mark Shuldiner on harpsichord.  With program notes.



VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Handel's Coronation Anthem: "Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened"

Carsten Schmidt leads this performance for chorus and orchestra of Handel's Coronation Anthem ("Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened"), written in 1727 for the installment of George II. With program notes.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Beethoven's Symphony No 1 (complete)

Carsten Schmidt conducts a scintillating performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major, recorded in 2018.  With this work Beethoven firmly put his mark on the Viennese symphonic world.  Includes program notes.




PERSPECTIVE: The Lowest (of the Low) Double Reeds

Developing out of earlier predecessors, the bassoon and contrabassoon provide the foundation of Baroque and Classical ensemble music.  In this Perspective Keith Collins explains the instruments' origins, design, and highlights a few works in which they play key roles.




PERFORMANCE: Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks

Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks remains one of the most beloved orcehstral works of the Baroque era. This performance features the SMF Baroque Players on period instruments. Includes program notes.