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Harmonia Early Music

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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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.

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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