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Blue Heron to Essay Songs for Spring


Scott Metcalfe (Liz Linder photo)
Scott Metcalfe (Liz Linder photo)

No one in these parts who loves French chansons, 16th-century music, or the viola da gamba should miss Blue Heron’s concert on May 4, at 8 p.m., at First Church in Cambridge. Director Scott Metcalfe’s will collaborate with New York City’s viol consort Parthenia in Chansons de printemps, a varied program of  French songs known for their finely wrought counterpoint, beautiful poetry (including works by Ronsard and Marot and expressive settings.

Six Blue Heron singers (Shari Wilson, Martin Near, Owen McIntosh, Jason McStoots, Michael Barrett, and Paul Guttry) and the four viol players of Parthenia (Beverly Au, Lawrence Lipnik, Rosamund Morley, and Lisa Terry), will be joined by guests Emily Walhout, viol, from Boston, and Hank Heijink, lute, from New York. Blue Heron’s director, Scott Metcalfe, will also play the violin. A pre-concert talk will be given at 7:15 by Peter Urquhart of the University of New Hampshire, sponsored in part by The Cambridge Society for Early Music.

Offering a handful of the nearly 10,000 polyphonic secular songs in French from the 16th-century, as well as a few of the several thousand polyphonic settings of the psalms translated into French verse, with their melodies, from the Genevan Psalter, the concert juxtaposes songs loosely connected by common themes or images—springtime, willows, nightingales, and, inevitably, love. The songs come from France and the Low Countries, with several works drawn from an anthology published in Antwerp in 1597, Le rossignol musical des chansons. Also included on the program are fantasies based on songs, as well as some freely invented. The composers, French, Belgian, Dutch, and even Italian, include several obscure names (Rinalde del Melle, André Pevernage, Paschal de L’Estocart), while at the same time highlighting the music of the marvelous and justly famous Claude Le Jeune and psalm settings by the great Dutch organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.

Le Jeune’s contemporaries perceived in his music an unparalleled rhythmic vitality. A panegyric verse prefacing the posthumous collection Le Printemps (1603) laments:

Because le Jeune is dead, the dance of the Muses has ceased:
Their carol is mute, Hippocrene’s waters run dry.

None knew how to render, as he did, the cadence of their songs:
None gave to verse equal order and verve.

None could caress the senses with such sweet ravishing,
And fill, as he did, the ear and heart with ease.

At his tomb a thousand flowers still give birth to this spring:
But this fair spring is touched by an eternal winter.

Claude le Jeune dies, and with him die together at one stroke
The art, science, and honor of numbered movements.

Nicolas Rapin, Sur la mort de Claude le Jeune…vers elegiaques (preface to Le Printemps, 1603)

The concert will be repeated on Sunday, May 5, at 4 p.m., at the Church of St. Luke’s in the Fields in New York City. More information on both concerts is available on Blue Heron’s website here.

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