Agency for Early Music

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Programmes of Les Voix humaines

Extra-ordinaires de la musique de la chambre du roi ou l’anguille du théâtre d’eau
Music from the kings chamber - or an eel from the theatrical fountains of Versailles

picture Ludwig IVIn contrast with the opulence of the opera-ballet, the Vingt-quatre violons at Versailles, chamber music played an preeminent role in court life. As he aged, Louis XIV was more interested in his private music than in the grands spectacles that he and Lully had designed in earlier years. The extraordinary legacy of 17th century chamber music introduces us to a deeply moving musical language. It evokes an intimate world that privileges an unprecedented freedom of expression and illuminates the private rather than the public face of the Grand Siècle.

François Couperin was born, like most musicians at that time, into a family of musicians, and led a life blessed with good fortune. He was highly regarded from his youth, was employed gainfully early in life, married into well-to-do aristocracy and was even granted a 20 year publishing privilege by Louis in 1715, which brought him more fame and a tiny fortune.

Couperin and his company in the inner circle at Versailles, all «ordinaires de la chambre du roi» were the crème de la crème of court musicians. They were all performer-composers producing music designed for themselves and their colleagues and, of course, for the King’s pleasure.

In these newly designed programme of «ordres» - Couperin’s designation for his own suites - his compositions are featured as well as those of Marais and Rameau, in sets of character pieces related by key, title and mood or tied together by a story-line.
So this is a programme in celebration of the 350th anniversary of Couperin’s birth - and a programme of ordres filled with fantasy, fun and feeling, which even Louis XIV would have much appreciated!

Les Voix humaines - viol duo
Susie Napper - viola da gamba
Margaret Little - viola da gamba

Listen here to one of the pieces from the programme: Couperin's Le Dodo Ou L'Amour Au Bergeau.

This programme will be performed on 15th September 2018 in France. You are welcome to contact us for booking additional concerts around this date.

Musicke and Mirth
Music for viols, from Tobias Hume to the Beatles

picture Tobias HumeMusic and mirth have ever been central to English culture. Tobias Hume is purported to be the model for Shakespeare’s comic character, Sir Andrew Aiguecheek in his play Twelfth night, a buffoon with yellow garters and the laughing stock of the household.
Hume was, in fact, a mercenary soldier, active in various Danish, Polish and Spanish conflicts writing his only claim to effeminacy was his viol playing! Did he fight battles in yellow garters, viol in hand? He died a pauper in Westminster with nothing but snails and nettles to eat and not a penny to buy a decent suit of clothing, he wrote.
But he left two fabulous books of viol music which play a central role in this concert.

Hume was clearly one of the first, great viol virtuosos at a time when the written repertoire was mainly consort music for multiple viols. His banner was taken up by John Jenkins, the most brilliant and prolific viol composer of his time who lived to the ripe old age of 85, surviving both the Civil War, and the Interregnum, lived to see Bonnie Prince Charlie crowned King of England. Likewise, he kept up with all the latest musical crazes of the 17th century composing consorts, divisions and French dance suites as fashions changed. His contemporary, Christopher Simpson, not only left amazing examples of divisions for viols but also a treatise to enlighten his admirers centuries later.

Musicke and Mirth also includes one of the last known English viol duos by Finger who, like Handel, was an immigrant to the cultured Fairest Isles, and one of the newest Fantasies from the New World on now traditional British pop, the Beatles I’m the Walrus!

Les Voix humaines - viol duo
Susie Napper - viola da gamba
Margaret Little - viola da gamba

4 Seasons, 4 Viols
Antonio Vivaldi’s Quattro Stagioni revisited

picture VivaldiThe Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni) is Antonio Vivaldi's (1678-1741) most popular set of concertos. What a bizarre phenomenon that these pieces are heard nowadays as elevator and supermarket Muzak, as street music on anything from accordion to Jews harp as well as annoying, «on hold», telephone entertainment.

However the popularity of The Four Seasons is nothing new. They were amongst the Top Ten during the 18th century. Spring was performed regularly from 1725 to 1790 at the Concerts Sprituel, the Parisian concert series.
There are also many period arrangements of the concertos for diverse instruments from one recorder to full orchestra with choir. Stealing music was common practice in the baroque period. Like clay, it was a medium to be modelled to fit different instruments and new performance situations. Les Voix humaines is, therefore, following a well trodden, baroque tradition by arranging these pieces for the fun of it!

Each of Vivaldi's seasons is filled with word painting: you can hear the birds singing, dogs barking and the hurdy-gurdy in Spring, the thunder storms and mosquitos in Summer, the drunken farmers and hunting horns in Autumn and the wind, ice and rain in Winter. Vivaldi includes short poetic descriptions of the seasons throughout the music which you will hear during this performance. You'll also hear some other well known jazz standards, pop tunes and traditional songs (by Henry Purcell, George Gershwin or Joseph Kosma) that we've slipped into the concertos for your pleasure and ours.

Luckily we'll never know if Vivaldi is turning in his grave!

Les Voix humaines
Margaret Little, Mélisande Corriveau, Felix Deak, Susie Napper - viola da gamba

Here you can listen to George Gershwin's Summertime:

Here you can see Les Voix humaines performing a piece of Vivaldi on our YouTube Channel.

The Art of the Fugue
Johann Sebastian Bach's most sophisticated composition

picture BachIn 1739, Johann Mattheson, musicologist and composer, challenged «the famous Mr. Bach of Leipzig, who is a great master of fugue», to publish some triple fugues in invertible counterpoint, i.e. fugues with three subjects that could be combined in any permutation. Bach subsequently embarked on an even more ambitious undertaking that would occupy him, on and off, during the final decade of his life, and which he left unfinished: a monumental work to serve as a practical treatise, The Art of Fugue.

Bach had never been interested in theory textbooks preferring instead to place performance at the fore. He doesn't enumerate rules, devise exercises, provide examples. Rather, he offers fully-formed compositions that illustrate both the expressive and technical potential of fugal writing. The work includes many moments of gravitas but each fugue is imbued with multiple affects, many popular styles including French overtures and various dances, throughout which Bach’s brilliant sense of humour shines out.

The last fugue was left unfinished at Bach’s death and the autograph copy includes a note in the handwriting of Bach’s son, C.P.E. Bach, stating that, at the point where his father introduced the name BACH (Bb,A,C,B) in the countersubject, he died. Musicologists reject this melodramatic statement claiming that Johann Sebastian most likely hadn't worked on The Art of Fugue for months, considering his final health problems.
Many other composers have subsequently written possible endings to the unfinished fugue. However Bach’s ending in mid-phrase remains intriguing and leaves all options open to the imagination of generations of music lovers!

Les Voix humaines
Margaret Little - pardessus
Mélisande Corriveau treble and alto viols
Felix Deak - tenor viol
Susie Napper - bass viol

Here you can listen to Contrapunctus 5 of the collection:

Or have a look at a live performance on our YouTube Channel.

Sparrows, Doves, Ravens, Owls!
Les Voix humaines Duo with Charles Daniels, tenor, and Antoine Mallette-Chénier, triple harp

picture joy of liveFrom the sparrow’s innocence to the lusty dove, the conniving raven to the owl, portend of death, this programme of music and songs of the restoration, is rife with humour! The dulcet tones of the harp and the crusty viols compliment the bard’s yarn.
Before Charles 1st, King of England, was executed, his son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, was exiled to Europe, where he moved from court to court thriving on wine, women and song! Soon to be crowned King, he would bring back more than the monarchy to merry old England. The grand court of his distant cousin, Louis XIV, offered Charlie a glimpse of lavish, regal glory in which the arts were flaunted as manifestations of power.

After eleven years of austerity, Charlie’s people were hungry for entertainment. Music, poetry and the theatres were refreshed with novel European influences. Restoration comedy and masques brought both wit and wisdom back into theatres that thrived with a new clientele: a bourgeoning middle class eager to exchange cash for entertainment.
TThis programme includes music by Froberger, written in London, Ste Colombe whose music was found in Scotland, Jenkins who lived through the interregnum to welcome back the Bonnie Prince, Scottish and Irish tunes and songs of innocence, love, drinking and death by Purcell, Akeroyde, Lawes, Blow and a certain Baptist.

Les Voix humaines will expand the repertoire for two viols with new arrangements of some of the music offered in this programme. A common and respected practice in the baroque era, shunned as inauthentic during the 20th century, arrangements are now part of the historically informed norm and the duo is acclaimed for its brilliant transformations of works as well-known as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Rameau’s Pieces de clavecin en concert and Bach’s D minor Chaconne for solo violin as well as many songs by Dowland, Lawes and Purcell.

Les Voix humaines
Charles Daniels - tenor
Antoine Mallet-Chénier - triple harp
Susie Napper - viola da gamba
Margaret Little - viola da gamba

Have a look at a rehearsal of a piece from that programme on our YouTube Channel.

Amour Cruel
The ecstasy of love - set to music

picture PurcellA panoply of English and French miniatures, Amour Cruel illustrates the agony and ecstasy of love with instrumental and vocal masterpieces of the 17th century, from the exquisite Airs de Cour by Michel Lambert and viol player Sebastien Le Camus to the beauty and wit of Henry Purcell's songs.

Traditional rivals, France and England had always had common cultural interests. During the civil war, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the future king, was exiled to France where he spent many of his formative years, enjoying his distant cousin’s thriving court. Louis XIV became a model for the English prince. When Charles returned home, he brought with him a love of French culture, bridging the historic gap between the two nations.

French Airs de Cour, love songs in verse form, were a popular divertissement taken seriously by the best composers of the 17th century. Meanwhile, the Puritans had enforced closure of theatres and banned public music in England during Charlie’s absence. However private music thrived. The greatest poets and musicians collaborated to produce a feast of fabulous airs.
French viol music and technique grew its roots from the thriving English viol tradition, which flourished throughout the 17th century despite the revolution of 1649. André Maugars, influential French gambist, brought back inspiration and new ideas about virtuoso viol playing after years in England and influenced a generation of viol players as Louis XIV rose to power.

The passionate and eloquent songs and rhetorically persuasive instrumentals of Amour Cruel are devoted to the stormy upheavals of love and reflect the political upheavals of revolution!

Les Voix humaines
Monika Mauch - soprano
Susie Napper - viola da gamba
Margaret Little - viola da gamba

Here you hear Les Voix humaines performing a piece of Purcell on our YouTube Channel.

Here you can find some more audio samples on our website.

Les Voix humainespicture Les Voix humaines duo
the viol duo, has thrilled audiences worldwide with dashing performances of early and contemporary music for three decades. Susie Napper and Margaret Little‘s musical complicity has been compared to the skill of two trapeze artists or the telepathic communion of a pair of jazz saxophonists!

In the beginning, our tiny kids played with their dolls while we played our viols, experimenting with fascinating new repertoire, tinkering with Ste Colombe and Couperin. As our kids grew, so did our repertoire and our unique style of playing. Still arguing, persuading, negotiating like kids, we continue to develop, finding or creating new repertoire and performing with as much intensity as ever!

They are renowned for their spectacular arrangements of a wide variety of music for two viols, following in the baroque tradition of “covering” music originally composed for other instruments and adapting it for viols.

Knowing that recycling music was a normal practice in the baroque era, we arranged a pile of our favourite baroque repertoire for ourselves. If Bach could arrange Vivaldi, why couldn’t we arrange Dowland, Rameau, Couperin, Marais and Bach?

The duo is often joined by colleagues (Bart and Wieland Kuijken, Charles Daniels, Eric Milnes, Skip Sempe, David Greenberg and Nigel North), who share the joy of experimentation and the discovery of new and unusual repertoire for two viols with other instruments or voice.

Over the past three decades the duo has toured the world (North America, Europe, the Baltic, Far East, Australia and New Zealand), and made over forty recordings on the ATMA Classique label (Diapason d’Or, Choc du Monde de la Musique, Repertoire-Classica 10, Goldberg 5, Classics Today 10/10). Their marathon recording of the complete Concerts a deux violes ésgales by Sieur de Ste Colombes is a world première.

Consort of Viols
picture Les Voix humainesA decade ago the duo was joined by Mélisande Corriveau and Felix Deak to form Les Voix humaines Consort of Viols to take a refreshing look at the huge repertoire for multiple viols.

Our unique, controversial ideas offer a new profile to consort playing in which rhythmic freedom and ornamentation play an integral role. Our 2017 recording of Dowland’s Lachrimae is an example of our novel way of approaching a piece considered untouchable canon amongst viol players!

As well as the grand English consort repertoire, Bach’s Art of Fugue and the Purcell Fantasias, the Consort performs lesser known discoveries by Trabaci, Lupo, Moulinier and Charpentier to which we bring years of experience and experimentation as viol, recorder, fiddle and bass violinists!

As the biographer and music historian Roger North put it in the 17th century: «With (viols) set to play the same lesson, if perfectly in tune with one another, it is better music when one goes a little before or behind the other than when they play (as they zealously affect) to touch together. For in that nothing is gott by the doubling, but a litle loudness; but in the other way, there is a certain je ne scais quoi with frequent dissonances and a pleasant seasoning obtained».

The consort has toured in Canada, Mexico, Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltic States and recorded Bach’s Art of Fugue, Purcell’s Fantasias, Dowland’s Lachrimae as well as their own, unusual arrangement or Vivaldi’s Quattro Stagioni for equal viols: 4 Seasons - 4 viols.