Vibrations: Cosmos - Festival d'Ambronay 2018
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747) - Les Elémens, arr. Improviso
- Le Cahos
- Air pour les violons (La Terre et L’Eau) – Chaconne (Le Feu)
- Ramage (L’air)
A suite of banned dances: Jácara, Sarabanda, Chacona
G.P. Telemann (1681-1767) - Trio Sonata in G minor, TWV 42:g9
- Soave mà non adagio
Theories of cosmic harmony resonate throughout music history, whether presenting ideas of a sounding ‘music of the spheres’ or exploring music as a metaphor for universal harmony. Yet rather than focus on cosmic harmony in today’s programme, we present a programme of music by Rebel and Telemann which ventures to the edge of cosmic chaos. In between these composed works, we improvise a suite of Spanish dances banned in the seventeenth century. Feared for their lascivious quality and the potential they held to cause social chaos, these dances were officially banned from receiving either musical or danced performances on stage.
We begin with a piece that epitomised the notion of musical chaos as an analogue for the unravelling of the natural order in 1737: Jean-Fery Rebel’s Les Elémens. Composed when Rebel was 71 years old, the work opens with one of the most extraordinary bars of music to be written in the eighteenth century: a chord containing all the notes of a D minor scale in a shocking and unresolved musical representation of chaos; things fall apart. As Rebel writes in his introduction to the work, his aim is to reflect harmonically the chaos before the elements assumed their prescribed places in the natural order, linking musical order with order in the cosmos. This relationship is developed by the dance suite that follows, using orchestration to characterise the instruments as different elements (earth, water, fire, and air). Here we perform our own arrangement of the work, based on Rebel’s existing short score published shortly after the Paris premiere.
1737 was also the year that the German composer Georg Philipp Telemann travelled to Paris for eight months, during which time he started work on his famous collection of chamber music that appeared a year later, the Essercizi Musici. It is in this collection that the trio sonata we perform today is found. While Rebel’s piece is concerned with aligning the elements, this piece looks instead to balance courtly conceits with a folk identity, musically tempering indoor and outdoor sensibilities. Whether or not Telemann is successful in this endeavour we cannot say, but the stamping and riffing that breaks loose in the last movement’s Polish folk dance seems fit to bring chaos to any genteel indoor space…