- The Lure and Legacy of Music at Versailles: Louis XIV and the Aix School by John Hajdu Heyer
In big letters, the book cover proclaims that this study will discuss the influence of Louis XIV and his court, particularly of Versailles, on music in France. However, after the first pages one begins to wrestle with the impression that this title might be misleading. This impression is manifested after reading the whole work. The “lure” of the music at Versailles is not distinctly explained—let alone much of its “legacy”. In fact, Versailles is not of much importance at all throughout the book.
The subtitle does reconcile with the book’s contents: “Louis XIV and the Aix School”. The term “Aix School” seems very much to be Heyer’s own creation—although we are not told anything about this. An evaluation of the term near the beginning of the book would have been appreciated. It simply refers to the seventeenth and eighteenth-century church musicians in Aix-en-Provence. As Heyer summarises on p. 205: “The Aix School composers shared a common musical heritage by virtue of their formative studies at Saint-Sauveur”, that is at the maîtrise, or choir school, in Aix-en-Provence. One wonders whether “Saint-Sauveur School” may not have been a more apt (if not better sounding) term.
The subtitle, supported by Mignard’s equestrian portrait of Louis XIV as the cover image, suggests a special connection between the Sun King and this “Aix School”. Through the summary and also the concept of the whole book, the reader might expect that musical life in Provence, and in Aix in particular, started to flourish only with Louis XIV’s visit in 1660. Indeed, we are told very little about the state of Provence’s church music up to 1660; but the fact that in Arles Louis XIV could attend a festive Mass that included a “grande musique” (p. 29) seems to indicate that there was already a rich musical life.
After a General Introduction, Heyer divides his book into three parts. The first part discusses Louis XIV’s visit to Provence in 1660. It also introduces the main character of the book, the composer Guillaume Poitevin (1646–1706), and presents some welcome new details on the maîtrises. The second part provides biographies and discussions of the main masters of the “Aix School”: Poitevin, André Campra, Jean Gilles, several other “petit maîtres” (such as Claude-Mathieu Pelegrin), and finally Antoine Blanchard. While all this is very interesting and useful, it is notable that we have to reach the third part, beginning on p. 145, before we finally read at last a bit on “The Lure of Music at Versailles and the Île-de-France”.
At the outset of the book, Heyer rejects the well-established term “grand motet” for “the French concerted motet for large choir and instruments” (p. 7–9). He argues that the term was “rarely used in the era in which these works were first created” and that the French “grand” evokes different connotations in English. Referring to the title of Thierry Favier’s study from 2009, Heyer uses as an alternative what he calls “the most common French term of its [End Page 158] time”: “motet à grand chœur”. Before announcing this choice, he presents the shortcomings of this term too (p. 8) and it is not clear why he does not simply stay with the rather neutral “concerted motet” which he does occasionally use (e.g., p. 214). In any case, the term “grand motet” is not quite as anachronistic as Heyer initially argues: indeed, he presents the 1760 inventory of Saint-Trophime in Arles, and there we find the term “Grands mottets” several times (p. 159f.). After all, “grand motet” presents a neat analogy to the term “petit motet”, which Heyer duly acknowledges as authentic (p. 9).
This book is thought-provoking in the...