Hang on, this is going to be a little long…

A stationary voyage

I like this oxymoron. I had seen it in an article on cabinets of curiosities, at a time when we were working on an eponymous show. It came up again in communications about our program, the Jeu des amants (The Game of Lovers), an interactive evening where we have teams of players travel, following an imaginary map of the Kingdom of Love.

This idea of a stationary voyage, if it can be applied to activities of the mind, makes for a pretty metaphor of the imagination’s effects which among other things – agreeable or disagreeable, good or bad, useful or not, constructive or disastrous – permits us to conceive concerts, shows, events...

Those who follow social networks a little or who are unlucky enough to have their addresses in one of our files will see clearly the direction I am taking. It has to do with a very new project, since it dates, very precisely, from October 2nd, the day I had a meeting with Mireille Larroche – creator of the Péniche-Opéra – and a lunch in company with the theatre’s director, Jean-Philippe Mazzia. Since that day, everything has gone very quickly, in my head at first, then in those of my colleagues and friends with whom I embarked on this adventure.

« Embarked » is the right word here, figuratively as well as literally, since this fine team of collaborators found itself reunited on December 1st, 2nd and 3rd on a barge called the « Adélaïde »
• Olga Pitarch and Francisco Mañalich, members of Faenza’s primaryunit
• Alexandre Verbrugghe, our administrator
· Benjamin Martineau, our lighting technician
· Mireille Larroche, the project’s godmother
· Daniel Michel, our coach in the realm of barges
· Jean-Philippe Mazzia, our first « programmer »
· Benoît Roux, our graphic artist
· Aurélien Goulet, our webmaster
· And above all, our dear public « without which these shows could never take place »[1] !

– Why a barge?
– Because it couldn’t have been otherwise!
– Why the Adélaïde ?
– Because it could only have been her!

I’ll explain.

For years I have been asking myself about the conditions in which early music was heard. My first experiences as a listener and aficionado happened in the 70’s, when I spent hours listening to the CDs of Gustav Leonhardt, Franz Brüggen, Jordi Savall, et al., on my headphones. I remember very clearly the day when I could finally afford to buy a ticket to a concert. Gustav Leonhardt was playing in a large Parisian church and I was expecting a lot from the evening: at last I would be able to hear a harpsichord « live » !

What do you think the music-loving adolescent, passionate about early music, felt? The greatest disappointment, of course. How do you expect a harpsichord heard from the 17th row in an immense church (and behind people who were coughing) to give me more, in the matter of thrills and elevation, than listening closely to the same music that I was doing at home in solitude, once the agitation of an overpopulated house (for my tastes) calmed down ?

Inversely, in the same epoch, one of my best memories as a listener remains the one shared with my friend Hugo Reyne (who also was 15 years old at the time): a lute recital that neither of us has forgotten after all these years, not so much because of the performance of the artist – who certainly could not be compared with the great Leonhardt – but by the intimate arrangement of the venue.

The last anecdote, before drawing inevitable conclusions (and which certain readers have already guessed): a few years ago in Rome, I had the good fortune to be invited to the Farnese palace to hear a great lute master, who was giving a program of Renaissance music there. The organizers had chosen to set the musician up, right in the middle of the Hercules Salon, the most imposing room in the palace with its 18-meter-high ceiling... What’s more, the lutist was placed on a platform, situated a good five meters from the first row, thus sacrificing what would have been the best positioned seats to the ghosts of the palace’s ancient inhabitants.

The artist, after having played without stopping for scarcely an hour (that is, if I believe the movements his fingers were making on the neck, since we could barely hear him) took the trouble of explaining to some admirers who came to speak to him at the end of his performance that, according to early musicians, the ideal number of spectators for a lute concert should never exceed... the number of his fingers! This inside joke was supposed to make us laugh, but I was beside myself. Maintain some coherence, I thought, when you don’t have us in the palm of your hand...

So here are my conclusions, since the hour has come:

The renewal of early music, which grew in importance in the 70’s, focussed its attention on the making of instruments and playing techniques. One spoke of music played «on copies of original instruments » to designate this movement. Rather elementary questions were posed on vocal technique and one response was, in general, too much of a marked vibrato should be avoided. But who reflected on the conditions of the performance of music? How many of the passionate and well-known authorities on authenticity wondered if it was authentic to give a harpsichord recital in a church? How many asked themselves if it was authentic to make beautiful recordings which permitted their performances to become popular, while at the same time indignantly refusing to use amplification, even if the concert halls where they were performing were perfectly unsuited to their instruments?

I am not a fanatic of authenticity, at least not a fetishist who would raise the obligation to use early instruments in order to play in a true style. If authenticity in the interpretation of early music exists, it would reside much more, as I see it, in the understanding of phrasing, the ornamentation, the composition, sound balances – all things which can be done with a clarinet quartet or a rock group – just as in research of the conditions of performance being adapted to the music that is being played.

If Baroque forms such as opera, the oratorio or the concerto can be given without any particular concern in traditional concert halls and in churches, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it works for more intimate forms, which demand that one look not only into acoustic and architectural questions, but also into social and cultural issues like conviviality and interaction.

The music that we in Faenza champion – airs sérieux, airs de cour, lute pieces, madrigals, etc. – were created in salons (at the time, they spoke of ruelles or assemblées), in academies, cabarets... in short, in warm, friendly places where not only did the artists and spectators share the same space, but where music was not only the evening’s ornament, but was intermingled with poetry, theatre, society games and above all, the pleasures of conversation.

It was in this cultural and sociological context that delicate instruments and refined voices developed which, just like the dinosaurs after the fall of a giant asteroid, did not survive the generalization of public concerts, to which they were nothing less than adapted.

These beautiful but fragile early instruments – and the music played on them – would have remained silent for eternity if it were not for the technological marvel born in the 20th century that came to revive them. It was not musicology which brought about the renewal of early music : it was vinyl!

Certainly, it was the vinyl record that really reinvented salon music. Through the unexpected detour of technical ingenuity, the quidam lambda that I was could – as would have done an aristocrat of the Ancien Régime, but less expensively – afford the personal services of several virtuosi and fill my ears up with their music, as did the audience of Francesco da Milano in the 16th century, at the end of a banquet described by Pontus de Tyard:

“He had hardly stirred the air with three plucks that he broke the conversation started between them all, and having made them turn their faces, there where he was, he continued with such delightful industry, by his divine way of touching the strings which make them die away little by little under his fingers, he transports all those who are listening to him into such gracious melancholy, with the one leaning his head on his hand supported by his elbow, the other, his legs stretched out, still another, his mouth open and his eyes more than halfway closed, glued (one would say) on the strings, & yet another, with his jaw fallen on his chest, disguising his face with the saddest taciturnity that one ever saw, remained removed of all feeling, outside his capacity to hear, as if the soul, having abandoned all its sensitive areas, had retired to the edge of the ears, to enjoy more at ease such a ravishing symphony...”
« On the edge of the ears », like the water’s edge, there is something to find in order to feel intensely the intimate music from a time which seems to us so far away, but perhaps isn’t as much as it appears.

“But what the devil are they going to do in this barge? »

Here is why we have been working for years to replace the term spectator by that of guest, to invent convivial and interactive evenings where the audience feels at home, to rethink the performance space, which nearly everywhere is organized to welcome concerts and shows given at a distance in front of the audience, but rarely adapting it to the music that is programmed. For that we had to shake up a bit – gently, we assure you – established habits everywhere. How many chairs and accessories haven’t we displaced, in the most diverse places, to create a convivial space for an evening?

A little weary of having to recreate everywhere, with more or less success, the ideal listening conditions which our music needs, I dreamed of being able to take over a place which would be at our disposal on a longterm basis (short of it being ours) to arrange, think about, decorate, live in and bring alive in a way that would constitute the best setting possible for the musical jewels that we sometimes happen to bring to the light of day, thanks to the precious assistance of our musicologist and researcher friends.

I knocked on several doors close to where I live – borrowing an idea dear to ecologists – in the hope that someone, interested in this project, would manage to come up with some funds or loan a locale to us so we could experiment in the creation of a little utopia, to which I gave the pleasant name of Esperluette, which designates the pretty liaison sign, all in Baroque curves, somewhat fallen into disuse today: &.

I was politely discouraged: « You know, here at V., there really is a big problem of available places. The Castle, you see… » Oh yes, I understood well the Castle, traversed daily in a rush by hordes of hurrying tourists! Oh well, I can say now that I am happy to have been told thus to go for a ride, as the idea that came to me a month ago, in a discussion with Mireille Larroche on the Péniche Adélaïde, is very much that of a ride of a particular type: the endless ride of an Itinerant Salon on the navigable waterways of the Grand East, this immense region of France, traversed by large rivers, small rivers and canals, where most of the cities where we have played these last ten years have their feet in water as it came about, since they were developped and enriched thanks to the navigation of boats, loaded to the limit with raw materials, merchandise, cultural products which were circulating along their banks.

These waterways, which have been in my sight for ten years at Rethel, Sedan, Givet, Fumay, Charleville, Châlons, Chaumont, Troyes, Mulhouse, Strasbourg, Vitry-le-François, Auxerre, Château-Thierry, Epinal… I realize that I have never truly regarded them and even less understood them.

Now that this project of Salon Itinérant is underway, I no longer see anything but the waterways, I only think about them, and I dream of making not only our intimate and convivial productions travel this way, but also those of companies that share the same desire of inventing or reinventing other forms of performance.

I am impatient to discover in a different manner these Eastern landscapes, in travelling through them slowly, in taking even more time to do what we have been doing already since we installed ourselves in what is prettily called the Grand East: to meet people and share with them the repertoires and performance practices that we hold dear to our hearts.

We would also be able to give some nobility back to the term « commerce » which in the 17th century also meant « correspondence, communication, exchange, liaison, union, society, frequentation… ».

[1] Quoted from Polichinelle et Orphée aux Enfers, by the Faenza ensemble.



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Translations by Sally Gordon Mark

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