December delicacies: Beethoven’s Pastorale & Ha! compagnons

For more than 25 years, the musician and photographer Tobias Melle visualizes symphonic music in his "Symphonies in Pictures". On the occasion of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, he dedicated himself to Beethoven's sixth symphony from 1808, the Pastorale. "Ha! compagnons" on the other hand takes the listener back to a time when the voice and the lute were the true companions in the quest for poetic and musical expression. Canadian soprano Elodie Bouchard and American lutenist Anthony Harvey offer vivid and colourful interpretations of air de cour, ayres and monodies of the 17th century.

Ha! compagnons introduces the listener to the pivotal period between Renaissance and Baroque when composers united in the desire for clarity of sung lyrics. Voice and lute then became an essential duo whose intimate character perfectly matched the needs at the different courts throughout Europe. This symbiosis can be heard in the air de cour and ayres of France and England, whereas in Italy it is rather the genre of accompanied monody which prevailed over the national soundscape and later lead to the development of the first operas. The pieces on the album share the timeless theme of love in all of its different shades, rounded up by the ultimate drinking song that lends its title to the project.

“For us, Ha! compagnons illustrates not only the historical camaraderie of voice and lute, but also the collaborative aspect of many companions making this release possible” – Elodie Bouchard

Passionate about early music, soprano Elodie Bouchard stands out for her musical expressivity and the diversity in colours of her voice. She performs regularly with the baroque ensemble Les Méandres and the Scholastica Ensemble. She was featured at the opening concert of the Montreal Bach Festival in 2018, as well as at the Montréal Baroque Festival and the Young Performers Festival of Early Music America in 2019. Since 2018, she has partnered with the exceptional lutenist and continuo player Anthony Harvey who performs both, as a soloist and accompanist with many of North America’s leading ensembles such as the National Philharmonic and the Washington Bach Consort. Together, Bouchard and Harvey aim to bring music for voice and lute to the forefront of the music world. In each performance, the young artists combine their vast expertise in historical performance practice with their evocative musical intuition.

The movement titles tell a little story. It begins with the awakening of serene feelings upon arrival in the country. It is not about the countryside, it is about the “cheerful”, the happy and positive feelings that the visitor feels in the face of a peaceful, pristine nature. The second movement is a scene by the brook, and even though we hear the water murmuring and birdsong singing, the music does not intend to illustrate, but to let us feel the liveliness of nature – alternating between flowing and pausing. Only the third movement, The Merry Gathering of the Country Folk, is more striking. Here, among other things, a village band is caricatured and the man in the country is drawn benevolently and ironically. In the fourth movement, Donner. Sturm bursts in. The music is, for its time, a composed chaos. This is also the underlying mood: uncertainty and fear in the face of the raging forces of nature. In the final movement, shepherds’ songs resound. Happy and grateful feelings after the storm. In the idyllic imagination of early romanticism, shepherds stand for a rural harmony of man, animals and nature. And thankfulness here is the felt humility of having escaped the unpredictable forces of nature.

Two hundred years ago the “division of roles” between man and nature was clear. Man can enjoy the beauties and reap the fruits, but there are limits to all his striving, the forces of nature are unpredictable and limitless. Based on this premise, Tobias Melle transposes Beethoven’s encounter with nature into the present with his photographs. Unfortunately, we lull ourselves into the false security of dominating the world. First and foremost, we do not destroy “creation” and not “nature”, but nothing else but our own basis of life. And in the end, if we do not give in, we destroy ourselves.

The beauty of nature will persist. For the survival of us humans we have to take care of ourselves.

In the trailer below you can get a little insight into Tobias Melle’s take on Beethovens Pastorale.

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