Les Arts Florissants have now turned to the madrigals of Caldara. The appearance La Maddalena ai piedi di Cristo, an oratorio recorded by René Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi), seems to have heralded a revival of interest in Caldara. What do you think of his works?
He was a warm-hearted, learned man, one among many forgotten minor musical masters. I discovered his music in the manuscript of an old Austrian edition reproduced in an immense encyclopedia retranscribed at the end of the last century. Here I found madrigals with continuo composed in the eighteenth century for the court of Vienna, which employed Caldara. Such works maintain an unbroken tradition which more generally associated with the end of the sixteenth century for the polyphonic madrigal and of the seventeenth century for the Books of Monteverdi. And yet the madrigal persists well beyond that time. But you spoke of Mozart somewhat earlier, and of Così in particular. Così is, in a certain fashion, an uninterrupted series of madrigals for five or six voices linked by a clever recitative and accompanied by subtle orchestration.
Let’s next consider France, which elaborated its own conception of lyric theater dominated by recitative, ballets and choirs. This “totality” (song, music, collective scenes, spectacular scenery effects, and machinery devices) finds its expression in the work of Lully: poetry, graciousness, even, nostalgia. What are your own impressions of Lully?
Lully appeared on the scene at precisely the right moment. He appeared when French theater had reached its zenith: Garnier, Corneille, Racine. His most important contribution was the elaboration of a truly French recitative; he grafted the Italian recitative onto the French language while at the same time inspired by the declamation of the alexandrine verse of the spoken theater. He respected French taste for a declaimed text, but of a specific text, appropriate to be set to music. In this Quinault was a remarkable accomplice. The counterpart of the plot declaimed in recitative is the divertissement, the interlude in dance and song, French ballet, Italian interludes and, as we have already said, the importance of the chorus. All this carefully constructed architecture had been absorbed by him during his youth in that most cosmopolitan city, Paris. Lully observed, listened, retained. He familiarized himself with the theater. He was very ambitious and had a lively curiosity. One should not, however, misunderstand him. Art lovers in the seventeenth century were hardly dupes. A famous and favored musician is nonetheless an excellent musician. There is no success without talent, especially during that period. The talented Lully also had flair; he was a thorough courtier, a master of social trends and niceties who applied them with tact, but most of all, musically and dramatically, he moves with ease, indeed with genius.
Which of his works do you prefer?
I love all of Lully. He excels in his ballets. I also very much like his religious music, the petits and his grands motets.