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The Nightingale and the Butterfly

Pamela Thorby (recorder), Elizabeth Kenny (lute)
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Recording details: March 2009
National Centre for Early Music, York, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: June 2010
Total duration: 76 minutes 8 seconds

Pamela Thorby teams up with renowned lutenist Elizabeth Kenny for her fourth solo album on Linn, a sparkling exploration of French Baroque music.

A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.


'Virtuoso playing and scholarly research come together in this disc of French Baroque works, ranging from arcane suites (edited specifically for this recording) by Charles Dieupart, Anne-Danican Philidor and Louis Caix d'Hervelos (whose 'Papillon' evokes the fluttering wings of a butterfly), to François Couperin's celebrated imitations of a lovelorn nightingale. Pamela Thorby's eclectic experience in Baroque, jazz and folk music is everywhere apparent in these performances, with their combination of technical precision and improvisatory flair. Exploiting the tonal range of a battery of recorders, from the perky sopranino to the tenor ‘voice-flute', Thorby delightfully evokes the birds and butterflies of this pastoral idyll, and capers through the dance movements with fleet fingerwork. She is superbly partnered by Elizabeth Kenny, who plays archlute, theorbo and Baroque guitar, valiantly coping with the role more commonly realised by the harpsichord. Kenny also takes centre stage for solo works by Robert de Visée, whose sublimely melancholy music would soothe the Sun King to sleep at night … a disc full of delights and surprises' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The title of this disc is derived from three of the French baroque pieces included on it, the fourth movement ('Papillon') of the Deuxième suite in G by Louis Caix d'Hervelois and François Couperin's Le Rossignol-en-amour and Le Rossignol Vainqueur and is appropriate for a collection of sometimes lightweight but always charming pieces … Elizabeth Kenny's sensitive plucked accompaniment balances the recorder very well' (Early Music Review)» More

'Recorder virtuoso Pamela Thorby's soft, sweet, natural tone is ideally suited to the whimsical delicacies of d'Hervelois, Philidor and Dieupart. The birds and butterflies of French Baroque music are artful accomplices to Eros and Morpheus, and genial companions for summer evenings. Lutenist Elizabeth Kenny introduces a deeper melancholy in her twilit performance of de Visée's Passacaille' (The Independent on Sunday)

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Charles Dieupart’s influential and widely distributed Six suittes de clavecin, dedicated to the Countess of Sandwich, were published a couple of years before his emigration to England. The first edition in 1701 for keyboard solo and the 1702 edition in which he specified before each suite the type of recorder that was to be used: voice flute in the first four and a fourth flute in the final two. Dieupart’s ordering of dance movements (ouverture, allemande, courante, sarabande, gavotte, menuet and gigue) with the use of an overture to begin each suite, had yet to be seen in French harpsichord music of this period. Johann Sebastian Bach copied the first and sixth suites in order to study them in more detail and elements of the A major suite are recognizable in Bach’s first English Suite.

Dieupart enjoyed considerable success in England as a composer and player alongside fellow émigrés such as Paisible, Loeillet de Gant, Pepusch, Visconti and Haym. He fell foul of the overwhelming fashion for all things Handelian and as his fortunes waned he taught, organised concerts and played harpsichord in Handel’s orchestra. Hawkins reported that before his death ‘he grew negligent, and frequented concerts performed in ale-houses, in obscure parts of the town, and distinguished himself not [less] there, than he would have done in an assembly of the best judges, by his neat and elegant manner of playing the solos of Corelli’.

Anne-Danican Philidor came from a distinguished family of musicians. Son of the more famous André Danican Philidor l’aîné, Anne was a composer, instrumentalist and entrepreneur who founded the Concert Spirituel (1725) and Concerts Français (1727), both successful business endeavours he took on towards the end of his life. Earlier, he was primarily employed at Court, where he inherited his father’s position in Les Grands Hautbois and was a member of Les Petits Violons.

The ‘Sonate pour la flûte à bec’ in D minor comes from his first book of pieces, the title page of which mentions the transverse flute, recorder, violin and oboe with basso continuo (published in Paris, 1712). This sonata actually specifies performance on the recorder. If any French recorder work can be considered comparable in quality to those of Handel or Barsanti, Philidor’s sonata achieves that whilst maintaining an essential French character.

Louis Caix d'Hervelois was a viola da gambist who is thought to have been a pupil of Marin Marais. His relationship to the French de Caix family of viol players is tentative, but his abilities were not. If his eight books of pieces for the viol and pardessus de viole are any indication, he was an excellent player of both instruments.

Alongside his works for the viol, Caix d’Hervelois published two books of suites for the transverse flute, the latter (Deuxième recueil, Paris, 1731) containing the Suite in G major. Its movements reflect traditional dance types, while some are given descriptive titles. Papillon (‘butterfly’) is written as a spirited gavotte with the melody part imitating the fluttering of the butterfly’s wings. La Lionnoise is a sultry Gravement, perhaps referring to Lyons, the city where some of Caix d’Hervelois’ late works were published. La Fanatique, an energetic gigue, only hints at who or what ‘the fanatic’ might have been.

François Couperin was the most famous French Baroque composer to write for the harpsichord. His works also included sacred and secular vocal music, as well as a substantial amount of instrumental chamber music. His pieces for solo harpsichord (the four livres, or books, made up of 27 ordres, and L’art de toucher le clavecin) are monumental in their scope of musical invention, their originality and their ingenuity. They run the gamut of expression and challenge the performer as few others do.

Le Rossignol en amour and Le Rossignol vainqueur come from Couperin’s fourteenth ordre, a set of movements with titles relating to birds. The rossignol, or nightingale, is a bird historically associated with love and romance. Couperin first depicts the nightingale in love through a slow, beautiful melody which he indicates should be played very tenderly. He repeats the movement in the form of a double, or ornamented version, which heightens its character. In a footnote, Couperin suggests that the upper part may be entrusted to a flute, giving the movement a more bird-like character and sonority. In the other movement, Le Rossignol vainqueur, as the title suggests, the nightingale is victorious in love. Its upbeat mood is realised in the form of a gigue.

Like many musicians working at the French Court, Robert de Visée was a multifaceted instrumentalist, composer and teacher. He is most recognized as a guitarist and theorbist who published two books of music for the guitar and one for the theorbo and lute. His business at court included being part of the continuo group for productions of operas and opera-ballets by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Some of the more dramatic dances and ouvertures, such as this one, made their way into his repertoire as solo pieces, useful for the occasions on which he was commanded to perform late at night in Louis XIV’s bedchamber.

Bernard Gordillo © 2010

The recorder’s presence in French opera and theatre productions from Lully onwards – where it was often employed to fine effect in evoking a pastoral mood or symbolizing love, death and lamentation – is in stark contrast to the relatively small number of solo works for the instrument. However the surviving solo repertoire by French Baroque composers living in France and England is of high quality and possesses a special beauty.

The French maker Peter Bressan (or Pierre Jaillard, as he was baptized), a contemporary of the celebrated maker Jean Jacques Rippert, came to England in 1688 and swiftly became a famous and esteemed maker of flutes, recorders and oboes. Many of his instruments survive including nearly fifty exquisitely crafted recorders, amongst them a soprano fourth flute in B flat and ten voice flutes in D. The flûte de voix, or voice flute (a tenor recorder in D), was so called because its range was that of the soprano voice and although it is not specifically mentioned in more than a handful of pieces, the number of surviving instruments from makers such as Bressan and Stanesby suggests that there was a considerable market for a wide range of recorders. Thus third, fourth, fifth and sixth flutes – A flat, B flat, C and D recorders – were in demand alongside the most commonly used alto in F.

Bressan was a friend of James (or Jacques) Paisible, a highly successful recorder player, oboist and composer who brought the new three-piece recorder design to England in 1673. The impact of Paisible and his French colleagues on wind playing in England was considerable. Uffenbach, the German collector, amateur musician and traveller, praised Paisible as being a flautist ‘without equal’. Paisible went on to live in London for more than forty years during which time he maintained a long association with the royal household. In John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Venus (sung by Mary ‘Moll’ Davies, whose daughter by Charles II, Lady Mary Tudor, played the role of Cupid) sang her love duets to Adonis, whilst simultaneously intertwining her musical phrases with the recorder soloist, one James Paisible. Paisible married Mary Davies shortly after!

I can well imagine the impact those dashing French musicians would have made as they confidently displayed their abilities in their mother tongue. Their fluent and nuanced sound, the finesse of their agréments (ornaments) inflecting the mood, metre and structure of the music would have been a piquant addition to the melting pot of cosmopolitan London musical life.

Pamela thorby © 2010

I’ve always loved playing French music for its straight-to-the-heart singing melodies that seem to arise naturally from the physical makeup of the instrument or voices for which they are written. It’s music to play by feel rather than by precept, which is why it’s an entertaining paradox that it comes gift-wrapped in tightly-ordered treatises on everything from fingering to ornamentation. Dieupart’s suites capture this peculiarly French blend of precision with abundant freedom. Published in Amsterdam, the title pages cover a range of options from harpsichord solo to violin to flute and for the accompaniment from viol or archlute. Well, actually the Amsterdam title page has Viole and Archilut, but the upper part too is designated ‘Violon et flute’, although it finds its most personal expression on one or the other. When you apply the same logic to the bass you restore to the plucked instrument its complete role as both a melodic and harmonic support, sometimes more of one than the other, in the same way that the harpsichord in the solo version sometimes sings and sometimes riffs its own rhythmic accompaniment. And you can sneak some of the counterpoint from the harpsichord versions back in, especially when the recorder player has all the missing voices in her head, and asks for them like an imaginary friend to dialogue with …

I’ve also always enjoyed the story of Apollo and the nightingale, which goes something like this: Apollo challenged the lyrical bird to a contest. After many hours of the most heartfelt singing the bird’s chest burst open and he died. Art 1, Nature 0. Art plus the nightingale Nature would equal Hotteterre’s version of Le Rossignol en amour. Apollo’s lyre here gives just the odd note on the guitar, calling a truce in the beauty wars. This sort of lightness around ‘Big Questions of Art and Beauty’ is another reason to love this music, and is very handy for Caix d’Hervelois’ Papillon/Butterfly. Soaring up with improbable but graceful and gracious velocity is something of a Thorby signature, to which one can only respond by closing one’s eyes and reaching for something just a little bit higher. Then a bit higher still.

Elizabeth Kenny © 2010

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