At a Glance
This evening's program takes us on a musical tour of Europe in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, an era characterized—in music as in politics and culture, more generally—by a growing awareness of the differences between nations and peoples. Although Italian, French, and German composers shared a common musical language, their distinctive accents and modes of expression gave rise to stylistic variations that ran more than skin deep.
The Baroque era was also an age of the touring virtuoso. As musicians traveled from one country to another, national styles inevitably mixed and mingled: Just as the young Handel went to Italy and learned to write concerti grossi, so Bach followed Vivaldi's lead in using ritornello form in the fast movements of his concertos. Of the peripatetic violinist-composer Francesco Maria Veracini, it was said that "by traveling all over Europe, he formed a style of playing peculiar to himself."
In France, King Louis XIV promoted nationalization of the arts as part of a campaign to assert the supremacy of French culture (and his own absolute monarchy). Delalande and Marais—two of the leading musicians at his court in Versailles—cultivated a refined, ornately embellished style that audiences everywhere instantly recognized as French. They preferred flexible speech patterns to the motoric rhythms of the Italian and German music, and the mellifluous voices of the viols to the brilliance of the violin family.