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
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