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Episode 1

1 hour
First broadcast:
Monday 06 December 2010

Donald Macleod is joined by the musicologist, harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie for a series of programmes to mark the 350th anniversary of André Campra's birth.

André Campra, the man from Aix, seems to have had what it takes, a natural gift for producing such charming and elegant music that it delighted audiences wherever it was heard. A succession of church posts resulted in a wealth of sacred music, while the success of his opera ballet l'Europe Galante made him a household name. These days his stage works are largely unknown and he's best known for a Requiem and a Te Deum. Part of the reason for this obscurity can be attributed to historical circumstance. He came to the fore in the wake of Lully's domination of the French operatic stage, and latterly was eclipsed by the genius of Jean-Philippe Rameau. As a link between these two Baroque giants, Campra makes a fascinating study but to think of him only in these terms sells him rather short. William Christie has done much to put Campra on the map, with performances and recordings of his music. For the first time on "Composer of the Week" Campra features alone, providing a rare opportunity to appreciate the breadth of music he wrote, from the meltingly beautiful to the highly dramatic.

Contemporaries called Campra a plagiarist, thief, rogue, hellhound, even fiend - strong words indeed. Campra it seems was at the very least a shrewd operator, a survivor, who knew how to cultivate powerful protectors. Yet despite the scheming, Campra seems to have had a rather devil may care attitude when it comes to authority, he survived several scandals in his career.

When Lully died in 1687, young Campra was in his twenties, with a head full of untapped theatrical possibilities. His career had begun in the church, with a series of provincial posts. It was in the Cathedral at Toulouse that his operatic tendencies began to offend his clerical superiors' sensibilities. A few months after a scandal involving a girl and some members of his choir, Campra arrived in Paris on four months leave, supposedly to "improve himself and make himself more capable of rendering service to the church". Clearly chafing at the bit, the wily Campra never returned, preferring instead to wangle himself the prestigious post of Master of Music at Notre-Dame in Paris. Finally in a position to stake his claim on the operatic stage, in 1697 Campra wrote an opera ballet, L'Europe Galante, an act so scandalous to his church employers, that he had to issue it under an anonymous name. In one sweep it became a massive hit. He had revitalised French opera and Campra was all set for a dazzling career on the operatic stage. More stage works followed, among them Les fêtes vénitiennes, Tancrède and Idoménée but further difficulties also ensued. Having left Notre Dame to write for the stage, a quarrel resulted in his replacement by Marin Marais at the Opéra of the Académie Royale de Musique. Subsequently it took Campra twenty years to secure a job as one of the Masters in the Royal Chapel at Versailles. Once established there with generous resources and a splendid setting for his grand motets, Campra being Campra, still found himself some trouble. In 1731 at the age of 71 it's recorded that he took part in an orgy. Since the most scurrilous thing about the event appears to have been the loss of his glasses, perhaps it's more a measure of the viperous nature of gossip at Versailles than a reflection of a septuagenarian's libertine propensities.

In the first programme Donald Macleod and William Christie look at Campra's provincial training, first as a choirboy and later as a Music Master at the Cathedral of St. Étienne in Toulouse. At the age of just seventeen, supposedly a year after he'd learnt to read and write, Campra produced a setting of verses from Psalm 45, Deus Noster Refugium, while his operatic tendencies were already bursting through in joyous settings such as the secular motet Florete prate.

Music Played

5 items
  • Image for Ad un cuore tutto geloso from l'Europe Galante

    Ad un cuore tutto geloso from l'Europe Galante Elizabeth Dobbin (soprano)

    Performer: Le Jardin Secret

    Coro 16060, 21

  • Image for Insere Domini

    Insere Domini Paul Agnew (tenor)

    Performer: Les Arts Florissants Performer: William Christie (director)

    Virgin Classical 5 45720 2 9, 6

  • Image for Deus Noster Refugium

    Deus Noster Refugium Véronique Gens (soprano)

    Performer: Anne Gotvosky (soprano) Performer: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor) Performer: Hervé Lamy (tenor), Performer: Peter Harvey (baritone) Performer: Le Concert Spiritual Performer: Hervé Niquet (director)

    Accord 465 934-2, 1 to 8

  • Image for Florete prate

    Florete prate Paul Agnew (tenor)

    Performer: Anne-Marie Lasal (viola da gamba) Performer: Maia Silbertstein violin Performer: Ruth Unger (flute) Performer: Les Arts Florissants Performer: William Christie (direction and organ)

    Virgin Classical 7243 5 45720 2 9, 9

  • Image for Tancrède

    Tancrède Act 1, Scene 3

    Performer: Argant and the Saracen warriors Performer: Armand Arapian (Argant) (baritone) Performer: Ensemble vocal d'Avignon Performer: Ensemble instrumental de Provence Performer: Clémont Zaffini (conductor)

    Pierre Verany CA 803, 2


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