Sous l'empire d'Amour by Marie-Claude Chappuis and Luca Pianca
French musicologist Marin Mersenne (1588–1648) declared the French air de cour to be lacking the passion of Italian vocal music. ‘Our French musicians,’ he wrote, ‘are content to flatter the ear and to avail themselves of a perpetual sweetness in their singing, which prevents them from ever becoming over-forceful’. In Sous l’Empire d’Amour, mezzo-soprano Marie-Claude Chappuis and lutenist Luca Pianca present a selection of beguiling and haunting airs de cour to challenge Mersenne’s statement. Popular in Louis XIII’s court, the French air de cour is a form of secular vocal music, often strophic, homophonic, and with single lute accompaniment. As someone relatively unfamiliar with that repertoire, I listened to the album with curiosity.
Chappuis and Pianca’s program comprises music by famous composers (Lully, Lambert), alongside lesser-known composers (Jacques Bittner, Gabriel Battaile). Chappuis’s mezzo-soprano voice is dark, expressive, and agile, her delivery of text seductive, and her dramatic interpretations alternately outrageous and coquettish. Chappuis and Pianca’s sound world is melancholic, and provides the perfect escape during an otherwise cold and miserable Melbourne week. Without hesitation, I declare Mersenne’s assertion misguided, and, in the hands of Chappuis and Pianca, the air de cour an art form capable of expressing our most passionate human emotions.
Alexandra Mathew is from Readings Carlton.