FETES GALANTES

A celebration of the small but mighty bowed string instruments of the high Baroque and the women who played them. Tina Chancey, Annalisa Pappano , Catharina Meints and Joanna Blendulf on pardessus, John Mark Rozendaal on bass viol and Webb Wiggins on harpsichord perform 18th c. French and Italian chamber music by Couperin, Corelli, Marais and Corrette.  Special features— an intriguing 18th c. chamber version of Vivaldi’s Spring from the Four Seasons, and the first modern performance of Antoine Forqueray’s fiendishly difficult bass viol music, both featuring pardessus.

It sounds like aTiny instruments story from The Voice, a shy instrument treated like a poor step-child comes into its own and blows the competition away. But that’s what happened to the pardessus de viole, (part ‘o’sue) a small baroque string instrument invented for
wealthy women amateurs who would NEVER be seen playing the violin.

Why did this little fiddle spark such a Cinderella story?

In 18th century France, the violin was a brash young upstart and everyone wanted to try it. But it was thought to be too crass for aristocratic women musicians, so another instrument was invented for them–the ‘pardessus,’ a small hybrid violin and viola da gamba (cousin of the violin family), played on the lap with an underhand bow grip. On the surface, not very impresive.

A funny thing happened, though. The pardessus was so tiny and sweet, so versatile and easy to play, and had such a brilliant sound that it attracted all sorts of people, from orchestral cellists to small children, to middle class young women looking for husbands. It enjoyed a rich and varied popularity until the French Revolution, when anything aristocratic suddenly became very unpopular.

Tina Chancey is an early musician from Virginia with a particular love of tiny bowed strings, and one of a handful of professional pardessus players in the United States. She says, “I started playing it in 1984 in my husband’s ­­baroque group, HESPERUS. We needed a violinist but couldn’t afford to hire another person so Scott said, ‘Do you have some viol that might work?’ I looked around, found out about the pardessus, and with $2000 my father left me, ordered one from a young instrument maker who carved my father’s head on the scroll, looking dashing in a three-cornered hat.” Tina played her homegrown pardessus until 1990, when William Monical, currently of Salem, Oregon, found her an original instrument from 1745. In this concert she plays that historic pardessus, as well as other small antique viols from 1709 and 1740.

“The pardessus is a borrower by custom,“ Chancey says. “We’ll be playing music for violin, bass viol and flute, all sorts of French and Italian music, sonatas, suites, theatrical music and concertos, to give people a sense of the excitement, the intrigue, the energy of the 18th century French court.”