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Is it fair to say that most born Frenchmen have considered themselves exceedingly fortunate in their nativity? Moi? I didn't enjoy such luck. Neither did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the favorite of Louis XIV and thus the tyrant of French music for thirty-four years. Lully was born in Florence in 1632, but carried to France as a youthful Ganymede; he entered the service of the Sun King in 1653 as a dancer, and he rose to a position of monopoly influence in Louis XIV's court despite his flagrant debauchery and libertine sexuality. Just as Louis declared, that 'he was the State,' Lully could well have said "French Music, it's me!"
It's no easy thing to 'become' French, as many of us unfortunates have learned the hard way. American-born conductor/harpsichordist William Christie has achieved it more than most; with his ensemble Les Arts Florissantes, he's performed some of the finest recordings of French baroque music ever marketed, including this one of cantates françaises by Andre Campra (1660-1744). Campra is usually regarded as the most important French composer between Lully and Rameau and a transitional figure in French opera. The gangrenous toe that killed Lully in 1687, in fact, opened the way from the French-born Campra to pursue his development. And where did he turn for inspiration? To Italy! The vogue for the cantata form in France at the start of the 18th C was basically a revival of interest in Italian musical styles. I have to warn you that you'll need to be very well versed in baroque styles to hear the Italian influence in Campra's cantatas, but it's there, chiefly in the instrumental support for the utterly French vocal performance. That's where Bill Christie triumphs; nobody does French baroque with an Italian accent better than Bill.Read more ›