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Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


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"The Great Guise Music," a name I coined for the Guise ensemble of the 1680s

Factlet first posted on March 14, 2009

I've never explained why I felt a name was necessary, and why, my Portraits, I call the small ensemble created in the early 1670s "The Guise Core Trio." I created these names because 1680s marked a very important turning point.

During the 1670s, Mlle de Guise's "Music" (Musique), that is, the musicians at the hotel de Guise, constituted an ensemble typical of the household of a high noble: a handful of domestics with more or less adequate musical skills who had duties other than performing music. At the hotel de Guise, this Music more often than not consisted of a trio ― my "Guise Core Trio" ― composed of two women and a bass, accompanied by one or two recorders or viols and a keyboard. (Occasionally, especially for works performed at a male convent, the trio consisted of a counter-tenor, a tenor and a bass.)  This Core Trio calls to mind the Duchesse de Chaulnes's little ensemble, which performed at a mass at the Fille de Sainte-Marie in June 1647 : "La Reine fut entendre la messe ... où chanta la Musique de la duchesse de Chosne, laquelle Musique est composée de son aumosnier, son écuyer, son valet de chambre et deux de ses demoiselles. Cette Musique chanta un fort beau mottet, une petite élévation du précieux corps de mon Dieu, et un Domine salvum fac Regem, et le tout très juste et de belles voix. Les filles tramblotoient un peu, mais cela n'estoit point désagréable." (DuBois, Mémoires, pp. 37-38) If the girls' voices "trembled," it probably was less from nervousness than from their inadequate musical training!

Then, circa 1680s, Mlle de Guise, a "sovereign princess of Lorraine naturalized in France" who was the last of her illustrious family, decided to see to it that the House of Guise would go out in splendor. She therefore took into her household at least seven very young people, to work as "musiciens ordinaires" and "filles de la musique," and she saw to it that they received the necessary training. In other words, this was a "musique entretenue," a musical ensemble that she "supported" from day to day, as distinct from musicians "hired" for special events or doing double duty within the household.

Thus it came to pass that, when Mlle de Guise died in 1688, the Mercure galant informed its readers that: "elle avoit jusqu'à sa Musique entretenue. Cette Musique étoit si bonne, qu'on peut dire que celle de plusieurs grands souverains n'en approche pas.." (March 1688, p. 306).

The key words here are "souverains" and "entretenue." That is, the quality of her ensemble was so "great" that it surpassed than that of many "great" sovereigns. Indeed, who in Paris other than a sovereign (read, a "sovereign princess") would have presumed to create an ensemble in residence that was good enough to perform at the royal court, along with the Dauphin's Music? Marie de Lorraine, a grande (a great noble), had created a musical ensemble worthy of her greatness. Hence my name for this embodiment of Her Highness's pride and magnificence: "The Great Guise Music."