French Airs Project

Amadis by Lully

I've been working on and off for years on a project of french airs. It started as one of my DMA projects but needs refining and polishing. I'm hoping these pieces will be useful as pedagogical tools.

So often, singers avoid standard French art song repertoire until they reach the sophomore or junior year of college because much of it is difficult. Not only does it require an understanding of advanced music theory, but with a few exceptions they are quite difficult technically.

The pieces I'm working on are from the 17th and 18th century and use a musical language similar (though highly adjusted to the French language) to those in the standard Italian arias singers are so familiar with (the 24 Italian Songs and Arias; and the newer 26 Italian Songs and Arias).

There are some challenges with this repertoire. First, French as it was spoken at that time was not the same as modern French. This is hardly surprising since 17th and 18th century English is quite different from today's English, but since I'm not a native speaker it's harder for me to adjust. Luckily, I found a highly useful online tool, the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago. It includes several dictionaries from the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Second, these pieces are only available in the U.S. as facsimile reproductions. Some are available digitally (see the Lully score above), but others are only in hardcopy form at a few libraries. I was fortunate to visit Oberlin College & Conservatory in the summer of 2008 where the Conservatory Library is full of excellent facsimiles.

Lastly, most of the scores include only a figured bass and vocal line or are for full orchestra and voice. The pieces must be arranged so that those who are not specialists in early music can accompany the singer.

This is the part I'm working on refining now. Although I made arrangements for a recital I gave in December 2008, that performance showed me that they still needed improvement. My goal is to have accompaniments that an intermediate pianist can perform, this way it will be more useful for high school level students who often don't have access to excellent pianists. It will also give more teachers the option of playing for their students.

I'll try to post more information as I continue the project, perhaps including a performance and/or a score.