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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 17 (2011) No. 1

Published 2015

Ballet de la prospérité des armes de la France. Edited by Gérard Geay. Cahier 210 “Orchestre.” Versailles: [Éditions du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles], 2009. [61 pp. ISMN M-56016-210-2. €19,80.]

Reviewed by Rose A. Pruiksma*

1. Cardinal Richelieu and Political Ballet

2. Modern Edition

3. Conclusion

References

1. Cardinal Richelieu and Political Ballet

1.1 Cardinal Richelieu’s final grand political ballet, the 1641 Ballet de le prospérité des armes de la France, introduced the marvels of Italian theatrical design and stage machinery for visible set-changes to the court of Louis XIII in a magnificent celebration of his political and dynastic triumphs of the past year. After several years of military failures against the Spanish and Imperial forces, the year 1640 saw some significant French victories, several at the hands of Richelieu’s commanders.[1] These victories provided the subject matter and dramatic sets for the second and third acts of the ballet.[2] The Alps, representing Italy, opened to reveal the French and Spanish tents, siege works, and defenses of Casale, the site of Henry de Lorraine (1601–66) Count of Harcourt’s victory over the Spanish. This scene then transformed into Arras, where Marshals Châtillon and La Meilleraye had laid a successful siege against this important border town, which capitulated in the summer of 1640. In both scenes the ballet’s entries focused on the victorious French. In the first, the French vanquished the Spanish, while in the second, Flamands with pots of beer welcomed the French victors into the city. The third battlefront depicted in the ballet transformed the stage from land to seascape and commemorated the Marquis of Brézé’s [Jean-Armand Maillé-Brézé (1619–46)] defeat of Spanish naval forces in Cadiz, enacting the fiery demise of Spanish galleons at the hands of the French navy.

1.2 Each set-change took place in front of the spectators and was calculated to inspire awe and admiration, not just for the theatrical technology, but also for the French victories that unfolded before the spectators’ eyes. Richelieu’s new theater in the Palais Cardinal, constructed by a team of Italians recruited by Cardinal Mazarin, then one of Richelieu’s trusted envoys, allowed for perspectival grandeur and scenic wonders.[3] It also inaugurated a new level of separation between audience and spectators in court ballet. In earlier ballets the dancers had approached the audience and danced in the center of the room as well as on the stage area at the back of the hall, but in Prospérité the dancers were contained within the proscenium arch. The audience was not only separated from the stage action but also invited to observe a second focal point, as the cardinal and his royal guests sat alone in the center of the hall, in the prime viewing spot from which all the sets and machines appeared to their best advantage.[4]

1.3 On the domestic front, Richelieu saw his dynastic ambitions fulfilled on February 7, 1641, as his thirteen-year-old niece Claire-Clémence de Maillé-Brézé (1628–94) joined the house of Richelieu to the house of Bourbon with her marriage to Louis de Bourbon (1621–86), Duke of Enghien, the eldest son of the Prince of Condé.[5] Indeed, Ballet de le Prospérité des armes de la France, offered by Richelieu to Louis XIII and his entire court, featured the young bridegroom on his wedding day, fresh from his first military successes on the northern front, in two roles: in the first entrée of the ballet as Pride [L’Orgueil], the first of six demons that disrupt world peace; and in the final entry of Act IV of the ballet, as Jupiter, who calms the warring furies of the [Imperial] Eagle and the [Spanish] Lions and returns Hercules’s mace to his shoulder.  The fifth and final act celebrated the fruits of peace.

2. Modern Edition

2.1 While the ballet’s political context, the content of the livret, and a widely circulated image of the ballet in performance in Richelieu’s new theater have been discussed by historians, theater historians, and musicologists, the surviving music has received little notice, making an edition in modern notation a welcome addition to performance-oriented collections of seventeenth-century music. Margaret McGowan noted its presence in the Philidor collection (F-Pn Rés F. 497), but because she is not a music historian she easily dismissed the work, writing that “it serves hardly more than as an accompaniment to the dances.”[6] Gérard Geay, who prepared this 2009 “édition practique” [performance edition] of the ballet under the auspices of the Centre Musique Baroque de Versailles, chose, happily, not to be deterred by the previous lack of serious interest in this repertory. Working from the two-part score copied by Philidor in 1690, Geay and his students Vincent Berhnardt, Thibault Lafaye, and Magda Ubilava have supplied the three missing inner viola parts (haute-contre, taille, and quinte), basing their musical choices on a close study of five-part ballet music from the same period and the rules of voice-leading found in La Voye Mignot’s 1666 Traité de musique.[7]  They also worked in conjunction with Hugo Reyne and the Simphonie du Marais, who produced a recording of the ballet in 2008.[8]  Their edition includes a brief introduction to the ballet by Thomas Leconte—who edited the volume that includes François de Chancy’s récits for this ballet—and Leconte’s edition of the livret, which provides the texts for the récits and descriptions of the entrées.[9] Most of the editorial alterations are indicated by brief footnotes on the pages where they occur.

2.2 Although Thomas Leconte’s introductory essay provides some of the historical background for the work, it only hints at the richness of its political context. Performed only twice, on February 7, 1641, as part of the wedding festivities for Enghien, and again on March 14, 1641, to impress Charles, Duke of Lorraine, the ballet’s splendor was fleeting, even as it lived on in the iconography and in the memories of its spectators.[10] Although he notes the political significance of Louis XIII’s prominent role as primary spectator, Leconte does not address McGowan’s treatment of the ballet or her focus on both the political and practical implications of the new theatrical space. Staging ballet on a proscenium stage reshaped conventions of court ballet, altering the viewer’s perspective and promoting an increased focus on “imitative” dance that would become the primary choreographic style for the ballets of Louis XIV.[11] Olivia Bloechl’s more recent discussion of Prospérité provides valuable context for the ballet and demonstrates how a fleeting work may be both thoroughly embedded in its cultural context and open to multiple readings, especially as transmitted in images.[12]

2.3 While the lack of a more substantial critical apparatus and introduction is perhaps understandable in an edition aimed more at performers than at scholars, its absence here raises questions about the relationship between scholarship and performance, especially with respect to a relatively obscure repertory from a historical period less well-known than the later reign of Louis XIV. The complex relationships and negotiations of patronage and status at the court of Louis XIII render his court ballets especially important historical and cultural sources, capturing in time a particular set of relationships and status.[13] Without the context and an understanding of the style, how is a performer to make sense of the music? Is the edition directed only at practitioners of historically informed performance? If so, then what makes using this edition better than working from the manuscript source, now readily available in PDF format?[14] Indeed, any ensemble devoted to seventeenth-century French Baroque performance practice should be able to realize credible inner parts given the dessus and basse parts. If aimed at non-specialist performers, then the lack of any kind of performance practice notes or even reference to sources that might provide some information about performance practice, such as David Buch’s extensive notes in his 1993 edition of selected scores from the Philidor collection, is problematic.[15]

2.4 The Philidor manuscript itself raises questions. While several of the early ballets in the collection exist in only partial scoring, most of the partial scores from Louis XIV-era ballets have been transmitted on five-part staves, with the inner voices left blank, as if Philidor expected to be able to fill them in at some later point. On the other hand, all the ballets collected in F-Pn Rés F. 496 and Rés F. 497—two volumes of Anciens ballets danced during the reigns of Henry III, Henry IV, and Louis XIII—have been copied in two-voice score format; the top stave uses the G1 French violin clef, and the bottom has the standard F4 bass clef.[16]  This format suggests that Philidor was either working from a two-part reduced score to begin with, or that he had a set of dessus de violon parts and a set of matching basse de violon parts that he assembled, without the expectation of finding the missing inner voices. Philidor’s own words in the preface to volume 2 of this set suggest some labor on his part: “Thus I had no qualms at all to assemble all that I could of the Old Ballets that were danced under the Kings Henry 3. Henry 4. and Louis 13. and to pull them out of the dust of some cabinets, where they were as if entombed.”[17] Furthermore, the question of two parts vs. five parts becomes more curious when viewed in light of the diverse ballet airs that exist in two-part settings in F-Pn Rés F. 497 and also in five-part versions in another Philidor volume (also dated 1690), F-Pn Rés F. 494, as the “Concert donné à Louis XIII.” The melody lines in the five-part source align fairly closely with the melody lines preserved in the two-part settings, but the bass lines diverge substantially.[18] Does the two-part version represent something closer to what was actually performed in the ballet, while the five-part version offers a more stylized arrangement for a concert performance? While we cannot answer the question definitively, it is at least worth addressing. Leconte acknowledges the five-part version of “Les Amériquains” (engagingly recorded by Jordi Savall in 2002) as a model for the reconstructed parts but notes that the editors chose not to use that score in their edition, as the bass lines were considered to be too different from each other to be useful. In general, the five-part bass lines are somewhat less active than those of the two-part scores, and they frequently suggest harmonies different from the possibilities offered by the two-part versions.  If those two-part versions were indeed a sort of “reduced” score, perhaps reworking the bass lines in the manner of those in the five-part concert versions might have created an equally viable performance edition. Whatever the case, this edition represents only a best guess at what the king’s violins may have seen on the page when they performed the ballet in 1641. The source gives us even less of a sense of how the performers might have interpreted their bare-bones musical lines in performance.

2.5 Editorial interventions are not always indicated, unfortunately, as in the added natural sign to the E in measure 28 on page 44.  More puzzling is the inconsistent treatment of Philidor’s final barline, two parallel vertical lines with a dot on each space. In general, this sign indicates a repeat, sometimes of an entire strain, sometimes of just a segment of the final strain.[19]  While the editors sometimes indicate the creation of modern first and second endings, there are also instances in which they silently “correct” the final barline, transforming it from Philidor’s repeat sign to a set of equal-weighted parallel lines with no dots, suggesting no repeat (see pp. 16, 29, 30, 34, 36, 45, and 51) or even, as in the case of the “29e Entrée les Maures” (53), transforming Philidor’s repeat sign for the second strain into a standard non-repeating closing bar line. On page 27, the editors provide a brief footnote, indicating that they have altered the final barline, noting that in the source it is a “barre de section” as if it were somehow different from any of the other repeating barlines Philidor uses at the end of a section, although it is Philidor’s standard repeat sign in the source; then they suggest that “One may repeat the second section if one wishes.”[20] Because the critical apparatus for this edition is minimal, these kinds of decisions, even when they are disclosed, are never explained, despite the fact that the issue of repeats in this repertory is not entirely without ambiguity. Some explanation of the editors’ decisions, and the grounds on which they chose to interpret select repeat signs as non-repeating, would have been welcome.[21]

2.6 Leconte’s edition of the livret indicates the various entry titles from the Philidor source and provides a valuable point of reference. It also serves as yet another reminder of the incompleteness of Philidor’s sources and the many possibilities for error they engendered, as he made the best sense of those sources when he copied ballets composed before his birth. He does not seem to have had a copy of the livret at hand when compiling the ballet music so that his titles do not always line up readily with the order of entries as given in the printed livret. Leconte’s sensible suggestions regarding how the music matches up with the entries where these discrepancies occur reflect a deep acquaintance with both the literary and musical sources for this repertory.

3. Conclusion

3.1. The edition as a whole will be a useful addition to library collections, especially ones that support historical performance programs. Ideally, those using this as a performing edition will be willing to seek out resources that will allow them to become aware of the problems inherent in modern editions of this repertory. Informed by an awareness of how much performance-related information any modern edition of this music leaves to the interpretation of the performers, anyone wishing to perform this music needs to be willing to compare sources and editions. In order to render this edition most useful, a performer will also need to develop an awareness of the different possibilities for performance practice, the larger context for court ballet and how it was meant to function, and what role the music had in a production. Recent recordings of this repertory by Jordi Savall, Vincent Dumestre, and Hugo Reyne provide creatively different accounts of similar types of pieces, and careful study of these recordings and the primary sources could provide an important counterpoint to this edition.[22]  The Ballet des prospérité des armes de la France, despite its few performances, deserves closer study and attention; perhaps more performances of the music will enable musicians to develop a better understanding of how the music served the persuasive political ends of the skilled and aesthetically astute Cardinal Richelieu as he celebrated his personal and state triumphs.

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