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Marie Antoinette

This week on Harmonia we’ll look at some Marie Antoinette’s favorites as well as review a new release by lutenist Rolf Lislevand.

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painting of woman's arms

Photo: Anonymous

A detail from a painting of Marie Antoinette by Franz Xaver Wagenschön (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

In Sofia Coppola’s film about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette just before the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette’s life is portrayed as a feast for the eyes with sumptuous costumes, sinful confections, and on-location filming. As for the soundtrack, it was not what you might expect; more 20th century music and less of anything popular during the Queen’s lifetime. Had we been witnesses at her court, we would have undoubtedly been entertained by one of her favorite composers—Christoph Willibald Gluck—who made a huge splash with his opera Iphigénie en Aulide.

The Queen’s life was, of course, full of responsibility with any number of social and official obligations. When not at the palace of Versailles, she could be found nearby at the Petit Trianon, her own private château and present from Louis XVI. There she could let her hair down, do as she pleased, and even stage some of the more popular comic operas such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Le Devin du Village in which she sang the lead role of Colette. By most accounts, she was a presence to behold yet her voice left something to be desired.

It was no secret that Marie Antoinette preferred foreign composers.When Antonio Sacchini arrived in Paris he was immediately presented to her at Versailles and quickly became a favorite. As a result, Sacchini was able to put on several operas which were unfortunately met with little success because of conspiracies against him. Nevertheless, one of them, Oedipe à Colone, was later staged by the Paris opera nearly six hundred times in the ensuing decades.

Although the French Revolution brought about her death, Marie Antoinette was not forgotten. The composer Jan Ladislav Dussek wrote a tribute entitled La Mort de Marie-Antoinette for solo harpsichord that describes the scenes from her imprisonment through her post-execution apotheosis.

Our new release of the week features lutenist Rolf Lislevand performing selections from Antonio Vivaldi’s mandolin and lute concertos.

The music heard on this episode was performed by Les Talens Lyriques, the Monteverdi Choir, the Orchestre L’Opera Lyon, Eva Kirchner, the Alpe Adria Ensemble, the Orchestra of the Camerata de Bourgogne, and Jean-Patrice Brosse.

Music Heard On This Episode

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Gigue
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset, dir. — Persée (Astrée naïve, 2001)
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Jean-Baptiste Lully: Gigue
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset, dir. — Persée (Astrée naïve, 2001)
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Jean-Baptiste Lully: Air pour les sacrificateurs
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset, dir. — Persée (Astrée naïve, 2001)
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Jean-Baptiste Lully: Passacaille
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset, dir. — Persée (Astrée naïve, 2001)
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Christoph Willibald Gluck: Air: Achille est couronné
Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre L'Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, dir. — Iphigénie en Aulide (Musicfrance, 1990)
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Christoph Willibald Gluck: Chorus: Ami sensible, ennemi redoubtable
Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre L'Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, dir. — Iphigénie en Aulide (Musicfrance, 1990)
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Christoph Willibald Gluck: Air gai
Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre L'Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, dir. — Iphigénie en Aulide (Musicfrance, 1990)
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Christoph Willibald Gluck: Ballet-Passacaille
Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre L'Opera de Lyon, John Eliot Gardiner, dir. — Iphigénie en Aulide (Musicfrance, 1990)
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Jean-Jacques Roussea: Ouverture
Coro Gottardo Tomat, Alpe Adria Ensemble, René Clemecic, dir. — Le Devin du Village (Nuova Era, 1999)
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Air: J'ai perdu vout mon bonheur
Coro Gottardo Tomat, Adria Ensemble, René Clemecic, dir. — Le Devin du Village (Nuova Era, 1999)
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Antonio Sacchini: Antigone, Polynice, Oedipe: Ô doux moments
Orchestra of the Camerata de Bourgogne, Jean-Paul Penin, dir. — Oedipe à Colone (Dynamic Italy, 2005)
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Antonio Sacchini: Le grand prêtre-Le Ciel est désarmé
Orchestra of the Camerata de Bourgogne, Jean-Paul Penin, dir. — Oedipe à Colone (Dynamic Italy, 2005)
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Antonio Sacchini: Choeur: Le calme succeed aux tempêtes
Orchestra of the Camerata de Bourgogne, Jean-Paul Penin, dir. — Oedipe à Colone (Dynamic Italy, 2005)
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Jan Ladislav Dussek: La Mort de Marie-Antoinette
Jean-Patrice Brosse, harpsichord — The Harpsichord at the End of the Old Regime (PV, 1989)
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Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in D major: II. Largo
Rolf Lislevand — Musica per mandolino e liuto: Tesori del Piedmonte, Vol. 33 (Naïve, 2006)
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Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in D major: III. Allegro
Rolf Lislevand — Musica per mandolino e liuto: Tesori del Piedmonte, Vol. 33 (Naïve, 2006)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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