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Air de cour

Air de cour

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The Air de cour was a popular type of secular vocal music in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in the very late Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

 and early Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 period, from about 1570 until around 1650. From approximately 1610 to 1635, during the reign of Louis XIII
Louis XIII of France
Louis XIII was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1610 to 1643.Louis was only eight years old when he succeeded his father. His mother, Marie de Medici, acted as regent during Louis' minority...

, this was the predominant form of secular vocal composition in France, especially in the royal court.


The first use of the term air de cour was in Adrian Le Roy
Adrian Le Roy
Adrian Le Roy was an influential French music publisher, lutenist, guitarist, composer and music educator.-Life:Le Roy was born in the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France to a wealthy family...

's Airs de cour miz sur le luth (Book on Court Tunes for the Luth), a collection of music published in 1571. The earliest examples of the form are for solo voice accompanied by lute
Lute can refer generally to any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back, or more specifically to an instrument from the family of European lutes....

; towards the end of the 16th century, four or five voices are common, sometimes accompanied (or instrumental accompaniment may have been optional); and by the mid 17th century, most airs de cour were again for solo voice with accompaniment. Beginning in 1608, airs de cour were often taken from ballets de cour, a form of ballet which was quickly becoming popular at the French court.

Musically they were strophic, i.e. successive verses of the text were set with similar music. While the earlier music, especially that for multiple voices, was polyphonic
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

, after about 1610 the music usually was homophonic, sung syllabically and without meter
Meter (music)
Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented...

, with a clear influence from the musique mesurée
Musique mesurée
Musique mesurée, or Musique mesurée à l'antique, was a style of vocal musical composition in France in the late 16th century. In musique mesurée, longer syllables in the French language were set to longer note values, and shorter syllables to shorter, in a homophonic texture but in a situation of...

which developed in Paris around 1570. Collections exist which deviate considerably from these trends, however; several printers specialized in polyphonic airs de cour throughout the early 17th century, and there are eight volumes published by Le Roy & Ballard which are monophonic
In music, monophony is the simplest of textures, consisting of melody without accompanying harmony. This may be realized as just one note at a time, or with the same note duplicated at the octave . If the entire melody is sung by two voices or a choir with an interval between the notes or in...

 – for a single voice with no accompaniment.

Airs de cour show surprisingly little influence from the Italian
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 early Baroque trends of monody
In poetry, the term monody has become specialized to refer to a poem in which one person laments another's death....

 and the madrigal
Madrigal (music)
A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a partsong, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six....

, either in its polyphonic or its concertato
Concertato is a term in early Baroque music referring to either a genre or a style of music in which groups of instruments or voices share a melody, usually in alternation, and almost always over a basso continuo...

 form. This is all the more surprising as Italian musicians often worked in France, and the polyphonic and concertato forms of madrigal were being deeply influential in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 at the same time. Emotional expression in the airs de cour, compared to that of the contemporary Italian madrigalists, is cool, classical and reserved, in keeping with contemporary French taste. Vocal range of the music is usually limited to one octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

; dissonance
Consonance and dissonance
In music, a consonance is a harmony, chord, or interval considered stable, as opposed to a dissonance , which is considered to be unstable...

 and chromaticism
Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism...

 are rare; and the overall simplicity of expression is striking.

The influence of the air de cour extended beyond France. Collections were published in Germany, and more importantly in England, where translations were rather popular, as attested by the several publications and copies. There exists a delightfully titled publication:
French Court-airs, with their Ditties Englished,
(Edward Filmer,1629), The air de cour had considerable influence on the development of the English ayre
Air (music)
Air , a variant of the musical song form, is the name of various song-like vocal or instrumental compositions.-English lute ayres:...


The atmosphere of these songs is very different from the English lute song, and the lute technique employs some novel features. There are notated strummings with the 1st finger, both up and down. There have been several articles on the finer points of this, as well as the exact meaning of the notation, in the English and French Lute Society Journals.


Composers of airs de cour included:
  • Adrian le Roy
    Adrian Le Roy
    Adrian Le Roy was an influential French music publisher, lutenist, guitarist, composer and music educator.-Life:Le Roy was born in the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France to a wealthy family...

     (c.1520 – 1598)
  • Nicolas de la Grotte
    Nicolas de la Grotte
    Nicolas de La Grotte was a French composer and keyboard player of the Renaissance. He was well known as a performer on the organ and on the spinet, as well as a composer of chansons; in addition he was one of very few French composers of the 16th century with a surviving composition written...

     (1530 – c.1600)
  • Jacques Mauduit
    Jacques Mauduit
    Jacques Mauduit was a French composer of the late Renaissance. He was one of the most innovative French composers of the late 16th century, combining voices and instruments in new ways, and importing some of the grand polychoral style of the Venetian School from Italy; he also composed a famous...

     (1557 – 1627)
  • Pierre Guédron
    Pierre Guédron
    Pierre Guédron, , was a French singer and composer known for writing Airs de cour ....

     (c.1570 – c.1620)
  • Antoine Boësset
    Antoine Boësset
    Antoine Boësset,Antoine Boesset or Anthoine de Boesset , sieur de Villedieu, was the superintendent of music at the Ancien Regime French court and a composer of secular music, particularly airs de cour. He and his father-in-law Pierre Guédron dominated the court's musical life for the first half...

     (1586 – 1643)
  • Étienne Moulinié
    Étienne Moulinié
    Étienne Moulinié was a French Baroque composer. He was born in Languedoc, and when he was a child he sang at the Narbonne Cathedral. Through the influence of his brother Antoine , Moulinié gained an appointment at court, as the director of music for Gaston d'Orléans, the younger brother of the king...

     (c.1600 – c.1669)
  • Jean de Cambefort (c.1605 – 1661)
  • Gabriel Bataille (c.1575 – 1630)



  • Etienne Moulinie: Airs with lute tablature First Book (Musica Viva B000003XT6)
  • Etienne Moulinié, Airs de Cour (L'empreinte digitale, ed 13010)
  • Airs de Cour, La dispute des bergers/La pierre philosophale Les Arts Florissants/William Christie (Erato 3984-25485-2)
  • Airs de Cour Orinda: French renaissance songs, featuring Jennifer Lane can be listened to online (free and legally!) at this site
  • Antoine Boesset: Air Qui Produit Tant Des Choses : Boesset by Monique Zanetti, Ensemble A Deux Violes Esgales
  • Amour Cruel: airs by Michel Lambert et Sebastien Le Camus / Suzie LeBlanc, Stephen Stubbs, Les Voix Humaines (ATMA ACD2 2216)

External links

musicologie.org Air de cour