I don’t want to make a song and dance about these giants of the baroque era, ergo this post has no airs and graces, just a selection of Airs and Gavottes!
In lieu of modern inventions such as TV and radio, the people of the baroque era had to find other ways to amuse themselves. Basically, this meant a lot of singing and dancing and live music performance, and an expectation from the composers of the day to provide the basis of said entertainment.
The ‘Air’, derived from ‘Aria’ or any lyrical work, is a song in instrumental and vocal music.
Lute ayres emerged in the court of Elizabeth I of England toward the end of the 16th century and enjoyed considerable popularity until the 1620s. Probably based on Italian monody and French air de cour, they were solo songs, occasionally with more (usually three) parts, accompanied on a lute. Their popularity began with the publication of John Dowland’s (1563–1626) First Booke of Songs or Ayres (1597). His most famous ayres include Come again, Flow my tears, I saw my Lady weepe, and In darkness let me dwell. The genre was further developed by Thomas Campion (1567–1620) whose Books of Airs (1601) (co-written with Philip Rosseter) contains over 100 lute songs and was reprinted four times in the 1610s. Although this printing boom died out in the 1620’s, ayres continued to be written and performed and were often incorporated into court masques.
The most famous ‘Aria’ of all is probably from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Here is the incomparable Glenn Gould to carry you off to heaven:
Händel – Air in D minor from Suite No. 3 HWV 428 on piano by Murray Perahia:
I love this unusual transcription of Lully’s Air Tendre et Courante for the alto saxophone and piano:
I can imagine this being performed at Versailles! Lully – Airs pour Madame La Dauphine: Pavane des Saisons, for Triple Baroque Harp by Andrew Lawrence-King:
Lully – Air des Espagnols from ‘Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme’ (Sarabande), in a vibrant interpretation from 21st Century Baroque:
I also love this recital by Jordi Savall and Le Concert Des Nations:
Air on the G String
There are so many lovely versions of Bach’s immortal ‘Aria’ from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major BWV 1068, which was transcribed for violin and piano in the 19th Century by German violinist August Wilhelmj and titled ‘Air on the G string’.
By transposing the original key of D Major into C Major and lowering the notes by an octave he was able to play the entire piece on one string, the eponymous G string. It was one of Bach’s first works to be recorded in the early 20th century.
If there was ever a musical piece that could be classed as a form of meditation; this is it.
Yehudi Menuhin in vintage form. His bow control is awesome. I always think it’s harder to play at slower tempos, especially in a more legato style. He doesn’t get an attack of the “pearlies” (problems keeping the bow in constant contact with the strings) here!
Voices of Music on period instruments:
Fascinating chat beforehand with Anne Akiko Meyers about her Guarneri del Gesu violin (once owned and played by Henri Vieuxtemps) The music starts at 3.32:
A wonderful mellow transcription for trumpet, with Russian ace Sergei Nakariakov:
Daniil Shafran with a string orchestra playing the most divine cello transcription of Bach’s Aria:
It’s also perfect jazzed up by Jacques Loussier and his superb trio!
I can’t resist this gorgeous, ethereal vocal version by Libera:
The Gavotte is a dance, and a stately one at that. With its origins in France, this traditional folklore dance can be lively or slower in tempo. The Gavotte is said to have taken its name from the ‘Gavot’ people of the Gap de Pays region in south-east France.
The gavotte traces its history back to the late 16th century, and continued as a popular courtly dance form to the end of the 18th century. Bach wrote 26 pieces he titled “gavotte”, including movements in three of the four orchestral suites. A gavotte is a stylized French dance, moderate in tempo, always in duple meter, with each phrase beginning half-way through a measure. The phrases are almost always groups of four measures each, and are often paired in an antecedent-consequent manner. Like the air, it is a binary form, with two repeated sections. It is graceful, sometimes joyful, but not as romping and raucous as a gigue.
Among other types of dance, the Gavotte was popular at the court of Louis XIV. I can imagine groups of ladies and gentlemen dressed in their finery, feet poised, knees bent as they bow and step in unison. An example of a Baroque Gavotte dance:
Hilary Hahn in a beautiful recital of Bach’s Gavotte en Rondeau from the Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006:
Lully – Gavotte for Cello & Piano with Mischa Maisky and pavel Gililov:
Lully – Gavotte en Rondeau for Piano, played so beautifully by Cziffra György:
Bach – Gavotte from Cello Suite No. 6 with Mischa Maisky
The Gavotte from Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808 with Trevor Pinnock at the Harpsichord:
A spritely Gavotte from Bach’s French Suite No. 6 in E Major, BWV 817 by Glenn Gould:
As I had a few versions of Bach’s Aria from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068, here are the Gavottes I and II from the same suite in its original form by Capella Istropolitana:
Händel’s Gavotte in G Major, HWV 491 transcribed for classical guitar and performed by Andres Segovia:
So, with a skip and a hop and a hum, I will leave you to enjoy the music! I’m off to practice the Gavotte en Rondeau on my violin…