The earliest surviving music manuscript from New Orleans.
The French founded the city of New Orleans in 1718, and immediately populated it largely with adventurers, vagabonds, and undesirables from Paris and the rest of France. In 1724 the colony had enough young boys sired by the colonials to bring in priests to educate them. Not to be outdone by the boys, in 1727 the girls of New Orleans were provided with education, too. A small contingent of Ursuline nuns, brought in to offer medical support for the colony, also had the goal to save these young girls from the sins of their fathers through religious instruction. A significant tool for such education was the singing of songs with proper texts.
The Ursuline manuscript, the facsimile of which is the subject of this review, is a collection of 294 such songs. It was copied in France in 1736 by an anonymous young woman "C. D." and brought to New Orleans in 1754 as a gift from a "Mr Nicollet." As such it is the oldest music of any kind that was performed in the city that has survived to the present day. The Ursuline facsimile has been carefully anti beautifully edited by Alfred Lemmon, director of the Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection where the manuscript has resided since 1998. The handwriting of the original is very clear, including an original one-page "avis" by C. D., and there are no problems in reading the music or the texts. The intent is to serve performers who wish to sing the songs, but it also provides the scholar with important material for the early history of music in what became one of the most important centers of music in America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (A few of the songs were recorded on the compact disc Manuscrit des Ursulines de La Nouvelle Orleans, Le Concert Lorrain, cond. Anne-Catherine Bucher, K617 K617134 .)
To understand the significance of the Ursuline manuscript, Lemmon has included five essays that place the document in context. All are well annotated. Jean Duron introduces the facsimile with an overview of the manuscript as well as the printed edition on which it is based: the Nouvelles poesies spirituelles et morales sur les plus beaux airs de la musique francoise et italienne avec la basse, which was published in Paris in eight recueils (collections) from 1730 to 1737. As the title of the printed publication suggests, most of the music consists "of contrafacta-spiritual texts set to fashionable tunes" (p. viii). He surmises that Monsieur Nicollet was Gabriel-Francois Nicollet, who authored "a guidebook to practicing the Sacred Heart aspect of Catholic adoration" (p. viii) at about the same time that he donated the manuscript to New Orleans. Duron then describes all that is known of the Ursuline convent during its earliest years. Lemmon's own essay reviews the history of colonial music in the city from 1718 to 1804, when New Orleans left the realms of France and Spain and joined the United States. In the preface, Lemmon also describes the Historic New Orleans Collection and its importance as an archive for historical research into the life and music of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
Mark McRnight describes the Nouvelles poesies in greater detail. This is a huge collection of more than 450 songs, which were accompanied by fables in the style of La Fontaine, but the fables were not copied into the Ursuline manuscript. McKnight reproduces eight covers of different, varying editions of the Nouvelles poesies. Only the first four of the published recueils of songs were copied into the manuscript. Although similar collections of religious parodies of secular airs appeared later in the eighteenth century, they were particularly popular in the years 1715 to 1740. McKnight also describes the manuscript itself, containing mostly solo songs in treble or soprano clefs with figured basso continuo. A few duets with continuo are found, as well as a considerable number of songs for bass or baritone, doubled or accompanied by the continuo. What bass and baritone songs are doing in a collection for women is never explained, but rubrics in the manuscript answer this question (see below).
After a brief history of sacred parody of secular songs from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, Jennifer Gipson compares a handful of texts in the Ursuline manuscript to their secular originals. She finds that in some cases--such as an air from Desmarest's tragedie en musique Iphigenie en Tauride transformed into the moralistic song La recompense de la vertu (recueil 2, p. 39 = p. 151 in the modern pagination, hereinafter cited in the format 11:39 = p. 151, etc.)--much of the original text and poetic structure are retained in the parody. On the other hand, just the rhyme scheme is retained in an unnamed parody of Andre Campra's drinking ariette from his cantata Silene (1714). Although most of the collection consists of parodies, in a few cases original moralistic songs are included, such as Desmarest's Hymne sur la grandeur de Dieu, which, however, as Gipson points out, may have been influenced by an air of Lully before being copied into the printed Nouvelles poesies (entitled "Cantique" by McKnight; see below for his interpretation). Several French "cantatas" are also in the manuscript in the sequence of recitative followed by an air. A lack of specific references to the location of the discussed songs in the collection is unfortunate.
A final essay by Andrew Justice deals with three aspects of modern performance of these songs. His opening discussion of vocal technique emphasizes the French tradition of rhetorical singing (emphasis on words) as opposed to the Italian tradition of artful singing (emphasis on music). Concentration on the clarity of the text would allow parody to function more effectively than if the text were obscured by rigid musical meter and vocal melismas; after all, the moral messages in these songs--stated in words--are what were so important to the young ladies. The French stress on consonants makes the text more discernable than the Italian stress on vowels, and the author writes about the difficulty of singing French vowels.
Justice next considers the continuo (written by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault), which, according to the avis by C. D., is for keyboard and theorbo. With his own ensemble, Justice has performed the continuo on a keyboard instrument with or without a bowed cello or bass viol, but he also has used the theorbo or other instruments to add interest to the songs. In addition, he considers performances that alternate a single instrument or an instrumental ensemble with the voice--a performance practice that he labels "alternatim." (C. D.'s avis suggests that the airs may be performed on clavecin, bass viol, violin, or German flute.) Interpretation of the continuo figures might have been of help to nonspecialists performing the music today, but the figures seemingly pose no problem to players accustomed to performing early-eighteenth-century music.
Justice concludes with a discussion of where the songs were performed and how. The original songs were performed largely in private quarters by individual ladies of the upper strata of society, and their subsequent appearance in a convent school adds the possible dimension of choral monophony. Modern performance can recognize these venues, but often the locale of performance today is different, and can only approximate the original circumstances. Some explanation of the agrements or ornamental signs given in the manuscript would have been useful.
The facsimile is in color, which is important. The original Nouvelles poesies printed everything in black, but in the manuscript the lyrics for the songs are in red ink, while rubrics and the music are in black ink. The manuscript also includes at the beginning of each recueil a multicolor drawing showing religious symbols, musical instruments, and faces of singers. In his essay, McKnight reproduces comparable pages of one of the indexes in the printed and manuscript versions, and one page of music from each source.
Although there is considerable variety in the style, form, difficulty, and scoring throughout the manuscript, most of the pieces are simple solo songs with figured basso continuo accompaniment. A typical example is Seigneur, Seigneur accorde moi de ne jamais aimer que toi by Jean-Joseph Mouret (IV:22-23 = pp. 258-59). It is a song of virtue, subtitled L'amour de Dieu. It is in triple meter and the key of B-flat major, and is to be sung slowly ("lentement") by a soprano. It falls into two sections. The first section is an air, which itself is in two phrases, of which the second has some imitation between the voice and the continuo. It is through-composed and entirely syllabic except for a few poignant ornaments. The second section, entitled "La sagesse," is also syllabic, but it is a well-structured chaconne in which the bass pattern occurs three times intact, and then recurs twice with chromatic changes. The entire song has a range of a ninth, and would pose no technical problems for a singer of modest ability.
The first two movements of the opening piece in the first recueil (I:1-2 = pp. 37-38) are much more complicated. They belong to a cantique (cantata) by Desmarest; the subsequent movements follow later in the collection. The first movement--"Loin d'icy profanes mortels"--is a recitative in praise of the grandeur de Dieu, and several changes of meter hark back to the musique mesuree of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, where the musical rhythm is completely subservient to the poetic rhetoric. The air gratieux that follows--Esprits a vos divins cantiques, in binary form--initially seems simple for the singer, but this air has two doubles (variations) with numerous short melismas and two long ones that require considerable vocal dexterity. Even more complicated vocally are Jean Baptiste Drouard de Debousset's Trop heureux (I:49 = p. 85), with its huge melismas, and Boutillier's Grand Dieu soit maitre de mon ame (1:46 = p. 82), which has several long melismas and octave leaps.
Formulaic bass patterns are found in a number of songs besides the one by Mouret. Qu'etes vous devenus (I:16-17 = pp. 52-53), for example, is another chaconne. There are several songs in rondeau form, which seems to mean a piece that is sectionalized with the opening passage recurring at the end (essentially AABBCCAA). The musette Bergers, reprenez vos musettes (1:34-35 = pp. 70-71) by Clerambault for soprano (treble clef) and two, distinct accompanying instruments (bass clef) begins with a vocal solo of three measures that is imitated by the upper instrument, and then recurs frequently, often as a ritornello. The lower instrument is a drone--a [B.sub.1][flat] repeated many times. The instrument "musette" is a kind of bagpipe that has a drone sounding with a melody; therefore, reference to musette in the manuscript implies a piece with a drone. A second musette appears in I:40- 41 = pp. 76-77, where the continuo is a drone until the final few measures when it has a freer accompaniment; it is based on a harpsichord piece by Couperin. Another drone musette is Campra's Rassemblez charmantes fleurs (I:50 = p. 86), and Debousset's Pour chanter la providence (II:8 = p. 120) is a drone musette in binary form w'ith two accompanying instruments. Toussaint Benin's musette en rondeau, Vous qui courez apres l'or (I:64 = p. 100) and Marais's Agreable solitude (II:52 = p. 164), combine both the musette idea of a drone with the sectionalized form of rondeau.
Dans les deux est un dieu qui m'aime (I:44-45 = pp. 80-81) is a simple duet by Lully for two sopranos and continuo in G minor, in triple meter, gracious and slow, and in binary form. However, it is also strophic (a second strophe is given without music), and requires improvised rhythmic alterations in subsequent strophes to be typical of the French concentration on musical rhetoric. If notes inegales were applied (which is difficult in a duet), the piece might lose its appeal to young women who would be struggling with other aspects of the performance. On the other hand, the following air gratieux, Ruisseau dont le doux murmure forme d'aimables accords (I:45 = p. 81), is a two-strophe, syllabic song in binary form for one soprano and continuo, so that adjustments to the pronunciation of the melody in the second strophe would be relatively easily accomplished. Adjustment to proper rhetoric in subsequent strophes of any strophic song has to be attempted even though it presents special problems of interpretation, and when there are as many as five strophes, as in Lully's Heureuse l'enfance qui pleine d'ardeur (I:54 = p. 90), the singer has to be especially diligent.
Several pieces have the rubric "dans le gout italien" (in the Italian style). For example, Venez mortels, accouvez by Campra, and Noel rejouissance by M. Chausson (I:28-29 = pp. 64-65), are both strophic songs. Campra's Dans les deux est mon amour (III:20 = p. 208) is a nonstrophic song in the Italian style in ABA form. Mon esperance, ma recompense (I:42-43 = pp. 78-79) by Campra, and Le rossignol ne chante (I:52 = p. 88) by Nicolas Bernier, are labeled "air italien," and have catchy tunes and sequences that place the music in higher regard than the text--an Italian rather than French tendency. The extensive melismas in Campra's Pour Taimable (II:34-35 = pp. 146-47) certainly make the music more important than the rhetoric of the text, a fact that justifies the designation air italien here. Batistin's air dans le gout italien, Descends et vole (IV:18-19 = pp. 254-55), uses typical Italian word painting of vole (flies) with a long melisma. In the cantata Attentif a ma voix (II:58-61 = pp. 170-73), Campra combines a French recitative and air with an Italian aria.
The first song whose voice is in the bass clef is Que toute chante l'auteur de ce vaste univers (I:4 = p. 40). The voice part and the continuo are written as one line, with text below and figures above the notes. It is a syllabic piece in two sections: an air sung gravement in duple meter, and a brief coda sung lightly (leger) in 3/8 meter. A rubric after the end of the song reads "clef pour un dessus," followed by a soprano clef (a C-clef on the bottom staff-line), which tells the female singer that she can transpose this song--originally written by Lully for a male voice--to her vocal range. No doubt the song was included in the collection because C. D. must have liked it, but it had to be adapted to the soprano clef if it was to have a place in what was a lady's collection. (It is unclear if the original publications have these rubrics, or if C. D. added them.) Such transpositions require some musical sophistication, which would have been possible for those ladies also capable of interpreting the ornaments in the collection. The inclusion of other bass-clef airs, then, could have been for the same reason, and with the same adjustment as in this song. A similar case is the song Que cette nuit by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair (I:27 = p. 63) where the bass voice is written in G minor (although the key signature contains only one V), and the rubric at the end gives the soprano clef with two [flat]s so that the female singer would transpose up to C minor. Lully's Tremblez mortels (I:17 = p. 53), in the bass clef, has the rubric for an alto ("un bas dessus") to sing the song at the same pitch, presumably one octave higher, which would be an easier transposition. The next song, Campra's Les mechants n'ont quien temps (I:18 = p. 54), is written with the voice in baritone clef and the continuo separately in imitation in bass clef; the rubric at the end says "un bas dessus peut chanter cet air." The first song in the third recueil, an anonymous Soleil revien montrer (III: 1 = p. 189), is written in soprano clef, with the unwritten continuo accompaniment to be performed an octave and a fourth below (so indicated by a rubric at the end); figures are given above the vocal part.
Missing from what is an excellent facsimile edition are comprehensive indexes of song titles, first lines, scoring, genres, and composers. In the original manuscript, first lines are indexed alphabetically at the end of each recueil, but it would be useful if all four indexes were combined into a single index in the modern edition. The indexes at the end of each of the four recueils give the name of the composers of nearly each song following the first line of parodied text arranged alphabetically. Poets are not mentioned. The composers are the most popular in France during the seventeenth and first third of the eighteenth century. All were French or Belgian, or they lived in France. There is no index of composers, but on page 27, Lemmon gives a comprehensive list; among the names, Lully, Campra, Destouches, and Clerambault are the most frequently encountered. Lemmon suggests that "Couperin" is Francois Couperin. The copyist C. D. also contributed the song Que cette main est sage (III:5 = p. 193). McKnight assumes two other songs are not parodies but original compositions in the printed source: Desmarest's Cantique sur les gandeurs de Dieu scattered on various pages of manuscript recueil I (:1, 3, 6, 14, 16, 19-20), and Daniel Danielis's cantate italienne, Tous passe dans le monde (11:62 = p. 174). As noted above, however, Gipson claims the first borrows from Lully and the second is a parody of an Italian cantata by Maurizio Cazzati.
Given the size of this manuscript, the quality of its pieces, and the glimpse it provides into the actual sound of eighteenth-century music in New Orleans, the appearance of the facsimile is a major achievement and an important gift to scholars and performers. The introductory essays present important significant data for historians of Louisiana, and musicologists interested in the music of the French composers included here will find these contrafacta a new, significant repertoire for study.
JOHN H. BARON