Theleme Ensemble Basel


 
Janequin-Trilogie
 
For the last three years, thélème has been developing a trilogy built around the French composer Clément Janequin (1485-1558), one of the greatest Renaissance composers of secular and sacred polyphony.
 
 
VOLULME 1
MOMENT MUSICAL - FRANZ SCHUBERT & CLÉMENT JANEQUIN: AN IMAGINARY FRIENDSHIP 
 
Although Clément Janequin and Franz Schubert obviously never met one another, we imagine them here enjoying the pleasures of conversation and music together. The program "Moment musical" aims to rediscover the spontaneity of the soirées in lively cafés that Franz Schubert held so dear. Janequin must also have enjoyed similar pleasures, as the poet Eustorg de Beaulieu transmits in a letter dated 1544: 
 
You, Blaise and I, we sang until midnight,

Knowing that we could no longer enjoy this pleasure after our death,
And to be more inclined to music

You associated with Clement Janequin

And others, all people of experience

Where lies musical science. 
 
thélème, which borrows its name from the utopia described by François Rabelais in his novel Gargantua, follows a hedonistic tradition, performing the music of Clément Janequin and Franz Schubert as one would share a good wine or nice dish in an intimate and friendly environment. 
 
At first glance, there seems to be little in common between the Romantic Austrian Franz Schubert and Clément Janequin, the French composer known for his descriptive chansons throughout Europe in the 16th century. Periods and language are however very thin divides, and if we consider it a bit longer, these two composers actually have much in common, even to judge from their biographies. Both were educated in music and religion from a young age, blossoming quickly and sharing their artistic talents. Both held jobs to earn their livings in situations that were not always financially suitable, Janequin in the church and Schubert as a teacher. We know from Schubert’s correspondence how much he suffered from financial difficulties. In a letter dated 1529, Janequin also deplores of his situation deficientibus pecuniis! These elements, unfortunately common to most musicians of all periods, are only details that do not approach the more intimate musical elements that connect Clément Janequin et Franz Schubert: a compositional ease and an extraordinarily refreshing musical style. Both composers are represented by a huge œuvre, in large part secular; even though Schubert composed numerous masses, he is famous for his lieder, and Janequin, despite a career in the church, wrote only two masses but more than 250 chansons. Each wrote mainly for voice and wrote music for specific use: the pleasure of sharing music among friends. The attention that both composers paid to the text, their choice of authors, and their refined musical settings are also important similarities. Clément Janequin’s chansons as well as the lieder of Franz Schubert display numerous similar techniques (free use of instrumental accompaniment – pianoforte, early Romantic guitar or lute, Renaissance guitar – usually scoring for male voices, etc) and themes (love, contemplation).
 
Certain passages of the texts set to music by these composers are biographically revealing. Could one for example read between the lines of the Chant des oyseaux, as Philippe Caron suggests? ("Le chant des oyseaux" by Janequin: a semantic chest with many layers" in Clément Janequin, un musicien au milieu des poètes, published by the Société Française de Musicologie in 2013); an in-depth analysis of the text shows that the birds here express not nature’s charms, rather elements of a professional dispute between Janequin and another musician. Schubert’s choice of texts is also revealing, for example references to the East ("und mit diesem Lied und Wendung, sind wir wieder bei Hafisen" from Im Gegenwärtigen Vergangenes ; "Die persische Liebe" is the expression of homosexual eroticism in a pre-Romantic fantasy East) may suggest homo-erotic relationships, as Ilija Dürhammer surmises (Geheime Botschaften, Homoerotische Subkulturen in Schubert-Kreis (...) ed. Böhlau 2006). Beyond deciphering coded messages and hidden references, it is exciting to try to understand who these composers were through the many elements that allow us to feel close to them. "Leise, leise lass uns singen", the third stanza of which opens this program, was adjusted to meet Schubert’s needs. The original text, by Anton Weiss, speaks of the awakening of a woman ("Holde, erwache!"), Franz Schubert modified it to fit Fanny Hügel ("Fanny, erwache!"), an intimate in Schubert’s circles. This example demonstrates how this musical repertoire is attached to the close circle of friends with whom one shares these musical moments.
 
This project was recorded during three concerts given in November 2016. The warm ambience of the "Allgemeine Lesegesellschaft Basel", situated near the Basel Cathedral, in an elegant home overlooking the Rhine, combined with an attentive audience were essential to this project: it would have been absolutely unthinkable for us to record this repertoire, so apt to be shared, in the solitude and sterile environment of a recording studio.
 
As we desired to adhere as much as possible to the original performing conditions, we had the pleasure of working with a pianoforte built in 1813. Since its quality and timbre place it exactly at the transition between the Classical and pre-Romantic periods, it is the ideal instrument on which to play works composed at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Practically untouched for 200 years, this pianoforte was kept in a noble home in northern Germany, where it apparently served as a luxury piece. It was restored in 2015 in the workshop Christoph Kern.
 
Finally, the friendship that exists between the performers is the most important element of this project. We hope this recording shows the pleasure that we have taken in working together and performing the moments musicaux through which we have come to feel so close to Clément Janequin and Franz Schubert.
 
Jean-Christophe Groffe
Translation: Zoe Saunders
 

VOLUME 2
AMOUR ET MARS - CLEMENT JANEQUIN & CLAUDE LE JEUNE
 
This second volume presents 16th century music as a link between the Medieval and the Baroque; it contains works by Clément Janequin, who opened the 16th century, and Claude Le Jeune (1530-1600), who closed it and thus opened the door to the early Baroque period. Le Jeune fits perfectly in the French tradition and turns out to have been a sensitive connoisseur of his predecessor Clément Janequin. He added a fifth voice to two of Janequin's songs (Le chant de l'Alouette and Le chant du Rossignol) and even composed a sequel to them. In reference to Janequin's "La Bataille", he wrote a play entitled "La Guerre", comparable to Monteverdi's war and love madrigals composed a few years later (Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi, 8th Madrigal Book, 1638) with their juxtaposition of Mars and Venus. 
 
 
To be published in February 2019
 

VOLUME 3
RECYCLING - CLEMENT JANEQUIN RELOADED
 
This third and final volume bridges the gap between Renaissance and contemporary music and brings together the thélème Vocal Ensemble and the XASAX Saxophone Quartet, which specializes in the performance of contemporary music.
 
The two ensembles asked French composer Betsy Jolas (born 1926) and German-American trombonist and composer Mike Svoboda (born 1960) to "reuse" works from the French Renaissance. Betsy Jolas masterfully reworked a song by Roland de Lassus for the eight musicians (Lassus-Phantaisie) and Mike Svoboda used the presence of the four saxophones to reinforce the overflowing energy of Janequin's song, "Les Cris de Paris". This programme features original works by Clément Janequin, Roland de Lassus and Salvatore Sciarrino juxtaposed with these new compositions. 
 
The World Premiere of these works was given on 27 October 2018 in Basel (Switzerland) in the presence of the composers. The French premiere will take place on March 19, 2019 in Folleville, in the Somme.