Ensemble Leviathan (FR)
Ensemble Leviathan was created in 2015 by Lucile Tessier. She gathered young professionals around a common goal: discovering new ways of playing baroque music, both by looking for unknown repertoire and by experimenting with the interpretation in order to cast a new light on the pieces they choose to play.
They specialize in baroque English music, from Dowland to Handel, with special emphasis on Purcell and his contemporaries. This musical exploration is linked to the research Lucile Tessier has been dealing with in a PhD at the Sorbonne University (Paris). More specifically put, she has been working on the many appearances and musical forms of madness in stage music at the end of the 17th century in London.
Lucile Tessier, recorder, baroque oboe and artistic direction
Passionate about the diverse colours of early music, Lucile Tessier was trained in various European Conservatories, including the Schola Cantorum (Basel) and the Superior Conservatories of Paris and Lyon (CNSM). Originally a recorder player, she studied baroque and renaissance bassoons, then shawm and baroque oboe. She obtained a Master’s in recorder in 2014.
She now plays all these instruments with various early music ensembles, including Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse, La Chapelle Rhénane, Le Parlement de Musique or the young company La Tempête.
Julie Dessaint, viola da gamba
Julie Dessaint studied guitar and viola da gamba at the conservatories of Nantes and Paris, with Emmanuel Balssa, Daniel Cuiller, Marion Middenway, Jean Tubéry, Sébastien Marq and Marianne Muller.
She regularly plays as a soloist and a continuist with La Simphonie du Marais (H. Reyne), Ensemble Desmarets (R. Khalil), Le Concert Etranger (I. Jedlin).
French Baritone David Witczak was educated at Versailles’ Centre de Musique Baroque before entering the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam where he was taught by Valérie Guillorit and David Wilson-Johnson. Back in France, his studies with the Italian soprano Anna Maria Bondi were decisive for his future career.
His concerts engagements included performances in Matthew Passion (JS Bach), Bach’s Cantatas, Krönungsmesse and Groβe Messe (Mozart), Charpentier’s motets, Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz (Schütz).
His love of chamber music leads him to work with ensembles such as Le Concert Spirituel, Ensemble Marguerite Louise, and La Cappella Pratensis.
Eugénie Lefebvre, soprano
Laureate at the 2013 Froville baroque singing competition, Eugénie studied at the Centre de Musique Baroque of Versailles and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Her production appearances have included Castor et Pollux by Rameau, Médée by Charpentier, Hippolyte et Aricie by Rameau, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Lully, Les Fêtes Vénitiennes by Campra, Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck, Don Giovanni by Mozart, Le Couronnement de Poppée by Monteverdi (Néron)
She performs in concert with le Concert d'Astrée (E. Haïm), les Arts Florissants (W. Christie), ensemble Pygmalion (R. Pichon), ensemble Correspondances (S. Daucé), Le Poême Harmonique (V. Dumestre) and the Académie für Alte music of Berlin.
Pierre Rinderknecht began his musical life in Epinal, by playing rock and jazz guitar. He then took an interest in early music, and went to study theorbo and baroque guitar with Bejamin Perrot in Versailles.
Clément Geoffroy studied harpsichord in Nantes and Paris, with Bertrand Cuiller, Olivier Beaumont and Blandine Rannou. After obtaining his Master’s degree, he entered the « Chef de Chant » class of Stéphane Fuget. Curious by nature, he played viola da gamba for many years and explored other early keyboards such as pianoforte, clavichord or organ. In 2013, he won the First Prize of the harpsichord contest Paola Bernardi in Bolonia.
As a continuist, he plays with famous early music ensembles, such as Le Concert d’Astrée, La Chapelle Rhénane or La Rêveuse, and co-created the ensemble L’Escadron Volant de la Reine.
At the end of the 17th century, London was a fascinating and exciting place to live in. After 10 years of Puritan Republic, the return of King Charles II in 1660 marked the beginning of a new era, called “The Happy Restoration”. The very religious and strict Puritans had forbidden every kind of entertainment, from drinking in inns to gambling, and, of course, the theatre. One of the first decisions of the new king after his return was to reopen all the playhouses to the great pleasure of the Londoners. The decades that followed were filled with theatrical experiments and novelties, one of the most important being the arrival of women on public stages. Women weren’t allowed to perform in public theatres before, and the debuts of these brand new actresses were a real attraction, certainly responsible for the renewed taste in the theatre. At that time, plays always included music, and the composers took advantage of the new situation to write more and more elaborate arias for the actresses. In the last decade of the 17th century, a special type of song began to be in vogue: the Mad Song. Sung almost always by women, this very contrasted and expressive form musically illustrated the tipping over of someone losing his or her mind. It allowed the actresses to show their talents, from vocal virtuosity to dramatic power.
The public of the time was very fond of these very expressive, wild displays, as were the writers and composers, who never could hide their fascination for the disorders of the mind. At the time, it was actually a common thing in London take the family on a Sunday for a visit to the Bedlam asylum, where for a few pennies you could see the lunatics in chains.
The programme pieces exploit the diverse degrees of madness, from melancholy to frenzy. The three Mad Songs sung here are from the vocal music composed for Thomas Durfey’s play The Comical History of Don Quixote, the first English theatrical adaptation of the famous Cervantes novel, written in 1695.
The shortest one, I burn, I burn by John Eccles, was written for Ann Bracegirdle, one of the most popular actresses at the time. She achieved such great success with this song that she only sung music composed by Eccles until the end of her career. At that time, all actors were trained to sing, but Bracegirdle was known especially for her dramatic talents, and so the Mad Song allowed her to display her full potential.
Let the dreadful engines is probably the only Mad Song written for a male character. It was considered then that women were more sentimental and ruled by their emotions, and thus more inclined to disorders of the mind. In Don Quixote, however, the character of Cardenio is left by his lover, and so becomes mad, which is very transgressive for the period. In this piece, Henry Purcell takes full advantage of the occasion and makes use of the vocal and expressive possibility a low tessiture can offer.
From Rosie Bow’rs is probably the most famous Mad Song nowadays. It is also the last piece composed by Henry Purcell, as indicated in the title of the air: ‘This was the last song that Mr. Purcell set, it being on his Sickness’. In a very original way, the various affects are indicated within the score, at the beginning of each section, which allows us to follow the abrupt emotional changes of the character: Love, Gayly, Melancholy, Passion, and Frenzy.
Another genre, Though my mistress be fair presents the relative virtues of love and…wine!
The instrumental pieces expressing the pleasures and torments of love are very common in English music. The ensemble have reunited the three favourite instruments of the English composers when it comes to tender, moving and expressive music: viola da gamba, recorder and baroque lute (the theorbo). Recorder, “the amorous flute” as it is described in the Ode to St Cecilia by Purcell, is the ultimate “soft” instrument. Lute is always described as subtle, feminine, romantic, and is one of the only instruments allowed for women at this time. Viola da gamba, by the nature of its sound itself, evokes melancholy and tenderness. This instrumental formation is consolidated by harpsichord, which brings a powerful and very expressive sound, like the ‘drummer’ of the band!