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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

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Noires fureurs ombres sans corps

Pierre Guédron

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This récit by Pierre Guédron – in which the declamation closely follows the words in order to emphasise their meaning – is considered to be one of the first French recitatives. It comes from the Ballet de Monseigneur le duc de Vendôme (or Ballet d’Alcine), which was performed at the Louvre and at the Arsenal in January 1610, making it the last grand ballet under the reign of Henri IV.
At the end of the ballet, Alcine, whose evil spells have been defeated by "the mere regard of the greatest King on the earth", turns towards the theatre. Cursing the demons for having failed in their task, she recognises her defeat before the king, who has witnessed a victory that was made possible only through his valour: "Alcine and her retinue turn, walk with a new step, in another manner, wearing different clothes and other colours: she holds a little golden wand in her hand, and her Nymphs carry instruments different from the first ones; all having had the time to change, they enter the theatre, glancing here and there, with furious and threatening gestures, with haughty demeanour and piercing gaze: and Alcine, with extremely strange gestures, advances impatiently, sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle, and then behind, without order and not in step: nevertheless the movements of both her head and the wand are in rhythm with the aforementioned instruments: thus they all arrive at the front of the Theatre, where, having stopped playing, Alcine recites (in song and playing a Pandora, which one of the Nymphs hands her) the following verses… The twelve Nymphs, all singing and playing together the refrain at the end of each couplet, retreat afterwards to the forest, as if in sorrow and overwhelmed, where, once having returned with Alcine, both they and the forest disappear…" (Ballet de Monseigneur le duc de Vendôme, Jean de Heucqueville, 1610).


Pierre Guédron

(ca. 1565–1620)

Pierre Guédron was the youngest of the three composers at the court of Henri IV. He was born at Châteaudun in 1565 or 1567. In contrast to his older colleagues Claude Le Jeune and Eustache Du Caurroy, Guédron excelled only in the composition of secular music, and rapidly became a master of the genre.

His name appears in the historical record for the first time in 1583, when he was listed as one of five singers from the chapel of Louis II de Guise, cardinal de Lorraine, that had performed at the Puy de Musique d'Évreux that year. He is described as singing "countertenor in an excellent manner", despite being "of changing voice", i.e. between 15 and 18 years old. The date of his arrival at court is unknown. Perhaps he joined the singers of the Musique du Roi after the death of the cardinal de Lorraine in 1588. His name first appears in the royal accounts in 1599, as Maître des enfants de la Musique de la Chambre. By March 1601 at the latest, Guédron was appointed Compositeur de la Musique de la Chambre, replacing Claude Le Jeune, who had died the previous year. His career reached its apogee under Louis XIII, when in 1613 he was appointed Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre du roi and Maître de la Musique de la reine mère Marie de Médicis, leaving the post of Maître des enfants to his son-in-law Antoine Boesset (1587–1643). Guédron rapidly made a name for himself by his masterful treatment of the air de cour, a secular genre in which he was unrivalled. After several of his pieces had been quietly published in anonymous anthologies (1595, 1596 and 1597), in 1602 Ballard published the first collection devoted exclusively to Guédron, which made the musician famous. Guédron also supplied airs and recitatives for the main ballets performed at the French court between 1598 and 1620, from Ballet des Étrangers to Ballet d’Alcine. He is considered the finest French craftsman of the accompanied solo song. He died in 1620, sometime around 9 July.

A total of 185 of his airs de cours and ballet music have come down to us, in versions for four or five voices, or for voice and lute. These were published in anthologies and collections starting in 1595. The lion's share of them were published in six polyphonic collections signed by the Guédron and published by Ballard, "music printer to the king", between 1602 and 1620.

Transcription (in French)

Noires fureurs, ombres sans corps,
L’effroy des vivans & des morts :
Trompeuse bande que j’appelle,
Impuissante où bien infidelle.
Allés Démons, foibles esprits,
Je vous quitte & tiens à mespris.

La presence de ce grand Roy,
Et tant de beautés que je voy
En charmes divins si fertilles,
Ont rendu les miens inutiles.
Allés Démons…

Ainsi tout mes efforts derniers
Pour arrester des prisonniers
Dont j’avois changé le visage,
En vain seront mis en usage.
Allés Démons…

J’auray donc au fonds de ces bois
Si souvent du son de ma voix
Rendu la nature esbahie,
Pour me voir à la fin trahie.
Allés Démons…

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