No Sleeping Allowed (but Perhaps a Drinking Song)

United StatesUnited States  Pierre Attaingnant, Robert Ballard, Pierre Guédron, Robert de Visée and Étienne Moulinié:  Rodney Stucky (lute and guitar), Mary Stucky (mezzo-soprano), Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, Cincinnati, Ohio. 10.2.13 (RDA)

The music of the French courts of Louis XIII and his successor Louis XIV was sophisticated beyond anything else in the European continent at the time of their successive long reigns. Dukedoms, principalities and burgs were slowly coming out of the Dark Ages and opening up to the wonders of the Renaissance, among these the advent of music printing, an enterprise that had long flourished in France.

During the second and third decades of the 1500s, Pierre Attaingnant perfected an English invention that allowed him to become the largest music publisher of his time. Another French musician, the instrumentalist, singer and composer Robert Ballard, went into business with his father and relatives, founders of “Le Roy Ballard.” Thanks to these visionaries, the business and art of music printing flourished and grew for years to come.

Enormous collections of music for instruments came out in the early 1600s, while large anthologies of airs for the voice were made available to the many amateurs and musicians-for-hire who lived and thrived, sang and played under the aegis of the Paris and provincial courts. Many earned fancy titles; “Ordinary Musician to the King,””Printer and Librarian to the Kin,”or ”Guitar Master to the King” might suffice. These fellows were musical jacks-of-all-trades equally adept at singing a drinking song in a pleasant voice for his Royal Highness’s drunken revels or penning a courtly air to help a master woo his lady paramour.  A “regular gig” might involve playing the guitar for His Most Royal Highness as he went to sleep or until the crowned head met his maker, at which time unemployment loomed ahead for the poor court musician, whose lot was tough already.

On this delightful Sunday afternoon recital of Renaissance and Baroque music, husband and wife duo Rodney and Mary Stucky shared their musical and curatorial expertise. Stucky is a skilled guitarist and lute player who brings scholarship, solid technique and a fine sensibility to this music. Throughout the afternoon his work both as soloist and as accompanist to his singer-wife was elegant, assured, attentive to details of phrasing, and when accompanying, always at one with her.

Because of their almost invariable pattern of one-note-per-syllable, these songs are not as easy to perform as they seem. To do them justice requires a good command of the French language –some of it Middle French – and the capability to take risks and never err on the side of caution. Suppleness, whimsy, attention to musical and textual details are but some of Ms. Stucky’s artistic assets. She also has a voice that is both perfectly steady for conveying lyrics, and flexible, moving about the territory of mostly-small intervals with unfaltering pitch. From her insightful handling of an ecstatic hymn to love, to the inebriated bravado of a drinking song to a setting of Psalm 127—all were nuanced and brimming with period flavor.

It is said that, for years and years the great Farinelli sang and played the lute for Phillip II of Spain every evening at the Escorial; similarly, Rodney and Mary Stucky may play and sing for many years to come. There will definitely be a loyal audience to welcome them again and again—and nobody will go to sleep.


Rafael de Acha