Air de Cour

Michael Bane

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online January 2017 | | DOI:
Air de Cour

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  • Applied Music
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The air de cour (courtly song) is a genre of secular vocal music produced in France during the late 16th and first half of the 17th century. The term first appeared in a collection of twenty-two solo vocal pieces with lute accompaniment published in Paris in 1571 by Adrian Le Roy. Le Roy stated that the origins of the new genre lay in the courtly appropriation of a popular vocal form, the vaudeville, and contrasted its lightness and simplicity with the “arduous” chansons of Orlande de Lassus. These and subsequent airs de cour are marked by brief, usually bipartite forms, limited vocal ranges, homophonic textures, strophic texts, syllabic text settings, and the elevated, serious tone of poetry. Unlike Le Roy’s airs, however, most 16th-century examples are for four or five voices without lute accompaniment. Some also exhibit rhythmic features suggestive of musique mesurée à l’antique. The genre peaked in both production and popularity during the reign of Louis XIII (1610–1643). Many of the era’s preeminent composers contributed to the genre, including Pierre Guédron, Antoine Boësset, and Étienne Moulinié. Airs de cour of the 17th century appeared in three forms, all published by the Ballard firm: four- or five-voice polyphony; arrangements of polyphonic airs de cour for solo voice with lute or guitar accompaniment (the most popular form); and solo voice without accompaniment of any kind. The poetic texts of airs de cour are usually anonymous, and they most often treat themes of love with a limited and precious vocabulary then current among courtly circles. A number of 17th-century editors also produced sacred parodies of popular airs de cour. Amateur musicians were the primary audience of airs de cour, but professional singers performed them as well, often with improvised ornaments and diminutions. Around mid-century the air de cour began to lose ground to new vocal genres in France, in particular the air sérieux, which featured more regular meters and basso continuo accompaniment intended for theorbo or harpsichord. Despite its disappearance from French music publishing, the reserved melodies, conservative harmony, and poetic language forged in the air de cour continued to undergird French vocal music throughout the 17th century and into the 18th. This bibliography limits itself to the air de cour proper, excluding both the air sérieux and the minor vocal genres (such as the chanson à boire, chanson à danser, and récit de ballet) contemporaneous with the air de cour.

Article.  8554 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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