Harmonia Early Music

A Spotlight On William Christie

We'll take a look at the Parisian chanson and explore the work of early music pioneer, William Christie. Plus, music by German composer Heinrich Isaac.

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William Christie

Photo: Sylvain Mignot

William Christie.

Time capsule for this episode: 1486

Chansons from the French Renaissance

The 16th-century Parisian chanson is a genre of secular song that departs from past fixed forms.  Evocative imagery, rich emotion, and vivid scenes are commonly found within chanson texts, and the music itself often highlights nuances of the French language.  Among others, compositions by Sandrin, Claudin de Sermisy and Clement Janequin are emblematic of the style.  Each demonstrates different descriptive and lyrical characteristics.

Pierre Regnault adopted the name Sandrin from a farce entitled Le savetier qui ne respont que chansons, or “the cobbler who responded only in song.”  Sandrin may have received musical training as a choirboy at the French royal court.  By 1539, he was employed as a singer for the Chapelle du roi, (“king’s chapel”) likely enjoying collaborations with Claudin de Sermisy.  Within a few years, courtiers hailed the pair as two of the most highly respected musical figures at court.

Pierre Sandrin (c. 1490-1560): Tr. 4 - Je ne le croy
Scholars of London — French Chansons (Naxos, 1994)
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Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1485-1558): Tr. 14 - Aupres de vous à 4 voix
Ensemble Clement Janequin — Les Plaisirs du Palais (Harmonia Mundi, 2007)
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Another esteemed court musician and master of the Parisian chanson was Clement Janequin.  Janequin held the positions of chantre ordinaire du roi, or the king’s singerand in also in hs final years, compositeur ordinaire du roi, or “the king’s composer.”  The latter honor had only previously been bestowed upon Sandrin.

Clement Janequin (1485-1558): Tr. 1 – La guerre
The Sixteen — Guerrero: Missa de la batalla escoutez, Janequin: La Guerre (Coro, 2009)
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William Christie

Early music pioneer William Christie felt an affinity for baroque music as far back as childhood.  Christie was born in Buffalo, New York in 1944.  Although none of his family members were professional musicians, each felt a passion for music and encouraged Christie’s developing talent.  His mother worked as a choir conductor at a local church and it was there her son had his first taste of renaissance and baroque vocal repertoire.

Despite his obvious skill at the harpsichord, Christie didn’t initially plan to pursue the instrument seriously.  At Harvard, he studied English and History performing only occasionally with friends.  Christie would have become a doctor if he hadn’t gone into music.  In 1966 he undertook postgraduate musical work at Yale.  During that time, the Vietnam War was at its height and protests raged across campus.  For several years, Christie was enrolled in the Army Reserve and teaching at Dartmouth.  In 1971 he traveled to Paris to study at the conservatory.

Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665): Tr. 17 - La catena d'Adone: Act II, Scene 3 – Sinfonia
Les Arts Florrisants / William Christie — Le Jardin des Voix (EMI Classics , 2006)
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Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704): Tr. 41 - Médée: Act 3 - Dieu du Cocyte et des Royaumes sombres
Les Arts Florissants / William Christie — In Celebration (Warner Classics International, 2009)
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In Paris, Christie undertook daring musical explorations at a time when many classical music aficionados were still a bit skeptical about early music, historical performance and period instruments.  Into this scene arrived Les Arts Florissants, a baroque music ensemble named for an opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.  Founded in 1979 by Christie, Les Arts Florissants has risen to the rank of national icon for its revival and preservation of French musical heritage.

Decades later, William Christie continues his work with Les Arts Florissants, staging at least one production per year.  He taught as a member of the early music department at the Paris Conservatory for over a decade, and now extends his pioneering efforts to the historical performance department at Julliard.

François Couperin (1668-1733): Tr. 2 - Audite omnes et expanescite
Les Arts Florrisants / William Christie — Salve Regina (EMI Classics , 2005)
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Featured Release:  Ich muss dich lassen

Ensembles Capilla Flamenca and Oltremontano present vocal and instrumental music by Franco-flemish composer Heinrich Isaac.  Their recording Ich muss dich lassen combines sprightly instrumental compositions with motets for solemn occasions, highlighting Isaac’s fame as a virtuoso composer and daring innovator in the realm of contrapuntal style.

Today, Isaac is known as one of the few composers whose works reflect the cultural crosscurrents of his own era.  Isaac composed vocal polyphony with Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Latin texts.  Hora e di maggio was likely written during his stay in Florence and may have been intended for theatrical usage, while Quis dabit capiti meo aquam? was composed for the funeral of Lorenzo de’ Medici.  Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen is considered Isaac’s best-known setting, hence the title of the CD; whether Isaac invented or borrowed its famous melody remains uncertain.

Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517): Tr. 18 - Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen / Tr. 13 - Quis dabit capiti meo aquam / Tr. 7 - Hora e di maggio
Capilla Flamenca and Oltremontano — Ich muss dich lassen (Ricercar, 2012)
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Pierre Sandrin (c. 1490-1560): Tr. 4 - Je ne le croy
Scholars of London — French Chansons (Naxos, 1994)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1485-1558): Tr. 14 - Aupres de vous à 4 voix
Ensemble Clement Janequin — Les Plaisirs du Palais (Harmonia Mundi, 2007)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Clement Janequin (1485-1558): Tr. 1 – La guerre
The Sixteen — Guerrero: Missa de la batalla escoutez, Janequin: La Guerre (Coro, 2009)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665): Tr. 17 - La catena d'Adone: Act II, Scene 3 – Sinfonia
Les Arts Florrisants / William Christie — Le Jardin des Voix (EMI Classics , 2006)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704): Tr. 41 - Médée: Act 3 - Dieu du Cocyte et des Royaumes sombres
Les Arts Florissants / William Christie — In Celebration (Warner Classics International, 2009)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
François Couperin (1668-1733): Tr. 2 - Audite omnes et expanescite
Les Arts Florrisants / William Christie — Salve Regina (EMI Classics , 2005)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517): Tr. 18 - Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen / Tr. 13 - Quis dabit capiti meo aquam / Tr. 7 - Hora e di maggio
Capilla Flamenca and Oltremontano — Ich muss dich lassen (Ricercar, 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Laura Osterlund

Laura Osterlund is a scriptwriter for Harmonia, recorder player, and student at McGill Univeristy in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, she moved from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois to Montreal in pursuit of a B.Mus. with major concentrations in Early Music Performance and Music History. Laura is an active musician throughout Montreal and Chicago and an avid memberof the movement to promote Early Music performance, pedagogy, research, and appreciation throughout North America.

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