ensemble Faenza

I founded the ensemble Faenza – named after the famous early fifteenth-century musical manuscript, the Codex Faenza – in 1996, originally with the intention of focusing on the medieval repertoire. Our first concert, based on music from that manuscript, was given in Paris at the Cité de la Musique (now Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris).

The four years I had recently spent in India studying Carnatic music with Aruna Sairam had convinced me of the futility of trying to recreate a tradition when its chain of transmission from master to pupil has been broken, which is the case for the phenomenon that we call “early music”.

With Faenza, I therefore set out to explore the music of the ancien régime – the political and social system of France before the Revolution of 1789 – endeavouring to rediscover the spirit rather than the letter: whatever our degree of knowledge of historical sources, we can only reinvent, using the insufficient evidence that has come down to us in the form of scores, treatises, literary sources or iconographic materials.

Ever since our earliest productions, I have examined the relationship between spoken and sung texts, notably through an exploration of the work of our greatest poet-musician, Guillaume de Machaut. As the ensemble gradually came to specialise in seventeenth-century music (now the core of its repertoire), other author-composers were added to form a rich gallery of portraits, including, amongst others, Bellerofonte Castaldi and Charles Dassoucy, to give just two colourful examples. This approach, centred on the social context of early music, has led us to turn quite often to semi-staged concert performances and, occasionally, musical shows.

Whatever form our performances have taken, the main focus of our reflection has been on the relationship between the audience and the performers on stage. Clearly, the formal nature of the traditional concert, inherited from the nineteenth century, was not at all suited to repertoires conceived in and for convivial circles, of which we had not lost track, but we had lost the practice. If we were to restore to the intimate music that we particularly love the ability to move the listener we would have to reinvent conditions of performance that would take into account not only the original context of the creation of these pieces, but also, and above all, the audience for which we were performing them.

That resulted in interactive concert forms, such as “Le Salon de musique”, “Le Jeu des amants” or “Les Quatre saveurs de l’amour”, in which we connect with the audience by means of acting, storytelling, poetry or the pleasures of the table, while relying on devices that minimise the physical distance between stage and audience. The popularity of such intimate forms, capable of appealing to the discerning audiences of the specialised festivals as well as to the wider audiences of the multidisciplinary stages, encouraged us to create a rapport with the audience that departs from the traditional stage-audience relationship. And so, we began to take an interest in the repertoire of the Paris fair theatres, with their comedies in which the words of the songs were displayed to the spectators so they could join in, and we are currently embarking on research into the birth of the French opéra-comique, whether in the form of opéras-comiques en vaudevilles or of comédies mêlées d’ariettes.

To develop such an approach, we brought together a team of accomplished musicians capable of moving with ease from instrument to song, from song to speech, from the entre-soi of Baroque musicians to interaction with the audience. Thanks to the precious companionship of these multi-talented performers and our regular exchanges with researchers, we are able to carry out work that constantly gives pride of place to texts, music and practices that deserve to be rediscovered.

Marco Horvat
Translation: Mary Pardoe

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