blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An aristocratic ambiance

The Queen in formal dress
The National Gallery and Music and Beyond combined forces again yesterday evening to present an evening of Music in the Lives of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Marie-Antoinette. Aristocratic ghosts (two of them dressed in 18th century costumes) were wandering through the halls, one section of the museum exhibiting the paintings of Vigée Le Brun, mostly portraits of Queen Marie-Antoinette and her contemporaries. Before their lives turned grim and tragic, she and her ladies of the court liked to dress up as milkmaids and shepherdesses in the Versailles palace grounds. Some of the paintings showed them clad in their "peasant" attire with flouncy muslin collars and big straw hats. In other settings they wore the formal court dresses of stiff silk, the men in fancy wigs. Marie-Antoinette was also keen on music. As a little girl she had played with Mozart, and as a grown woman she composed songs. I heard one of her songs sung by the soprano Jennifer Taverner, accompanied by Frédéric Lacroix on the fortepiano, and very musical it was, too. Mr. Lacroix afterwards played a dramatic piece by Dussek depicting The Sufferings of the Queen of France, her imprisonment and demise. She had been one of the composer's patrons.

This was part of a series of performances taking place in the Rideau Chapel, as was a lovely rendition of Mozart's Ave Verum by four singers and four string players.

Ceiling of the Rideau Chapel, National Gallery of Canada
The festival's musicians played in various parts of the building for three hours: a trio of two clarinets and a bassoon in the Water Court near the entrance (playing Mozart divertimenti and such), members of the London Handel Players in the Great Hall under the glass tower, a harpist with flute player in the cafeteria and another harpist in the Garden Court, taking turns with Matthew Larkin who played a small organ there.

I lingered longest in the Great Hall, where a pair of dancers gracefully glided around to the strains of Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits.

Like Gluck, many of the composers, actors and artists employed at Louis XVI's doomed court were not French; even Marie-Antoinette was not really French, but Austrian. Her court painter Madame Lebrun escaped the Revolution to undertake lengthy travels through Russia, Poland, Austria, England, Switzerland and Italy where she was received to much acclaim.

Harpist in the Garden Court
Trio in the Great Hall

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