The music of Bach, heart-rendingly emotional but also obedient to musical forms like the fugue, reflects the austere Lutheran culture in which it was written. One hears sunny Italy in Vivaldi’s vivacious and happy music. But French Baroque music captures the grandeur of the era. While listening to the highly ornamented music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, François Couperin or Andre Campra, visions of Versailles come easily to mind, and one can see the Sun King himself, Louis XIV, performing pirouettes.
The Kansas City Baroque Consortium, a period instrument ensemble led by cellist Trilla Ray-Carter, will take you to Versailles when it presents “The Sun King’s Court” Friday, Aug. 17, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The program will include chamber, vocal and sacred music by some of the greatest composers of the French Baroque. And a new work by Kansas City composer Anthony Maglione will play off and comment on the 18th century works.
“When you see photos of Versailles, you see the gilding and the famous hall of mirrors,” Ray-Carter said. “Everything is ornate to the max. Everything is glorious to the extreme. The composers whom Louis XIV hired responded to that environment.”
Louis XIV was nicknamed the Sun King after he danced the role of the rising sun when he was 14 years old. He was the king of France from the age of 4 until he died in 1715 at the age of 76. He was the longest-reigning monarch in European history, and, when he wasn’t fighting battles and plotting intrigue, Louis commissioned some of the finest art of the age, from architects, painters, playwrights and composers.
“He was certainly a ruler of indulgence,” Ray-Carter said. “Everything was over the top. I think he was far more interested in music and art than the politics of the day. I think he saw the arts as a way of heightening his sense of authority, and he saw music and art as a way of glorifying his position as a ruler.”
Of all the arts, Louis was especially fond of dance. He was a superb dancer himself and would faithfully practice for hours every day with his dance teacher, Pierre Beauchamp. Dance was more than a personal indulgence, however.
In 18th century France, dance was interwoven into the lives of aristocrats. Louis’ perfectly proportioned dancer’s body indicated that he was chosen by God to lead France, and the highly ritualized ceremonies of the aristocracy were not unlike intricate and highly detailed choreography.
“He loved throwing big balls and costume parties and dressing up in costume himself and dancing for his guests,” Ray-Carter said. “There are elements of dance in the works we’ll be performing. There’s certainly an underlying dance rhythm and pulse in most of the music of the day. I think much of the baroque era grew out of dance rhythms and dance forms.”
Four of the six works on the program are vocal works, but Ray-Carter says that even within the vocal works, Baroque dance rhythms can be heard.
“All of the pieces that we’re doing are small, intimate works,” Ray-Carter said. “Although the Rameau, the ‘Quam dilecta,’ is in the style of a grand motet. We’re doing it one to a part and one instrument to a part, so it will be a much more intimate interpretation.”
Maglione’s work, “Of silence,” was commissioned by the Kansas City Baroque Consortium and is based on a poem by Sufi mystic Rumi. Maglione, who is director of choral studies at William Jewell College, is one of the area’s most highly regarded choral directors and composers.
“Anthony is a good friend, and we’ve done lots of Baroque work together, so I knew he had the appreciation and understanding of the Baroque sound and the instruments that we play on,” Ray-Carter said. “But I also very much appreciate his language as a composer. I think he uses instrumental and choral colors in a very expressive way. Tony captures the essence of the Baroque but in a truly contemporary language.”
7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 11 E. 40th St. $18-$30. Tickets available at the door or kcbaroque.org.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at facebook.com/kcartsbeat.