Ten Things You Need To Know About Les Art Florissants

1. What does the name mean?

“The Flourishing Arts”.

2. Where does the name come from?

The name comes from the title of an opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, first staged in Paris in 1686.  The opera concerns the arts (Music, Painting, Poetry and Architecture) which flourish in the realm of Peace and overcome the opposition of Discord.  The opera paid homage to King Louis XIV and his love of the arts, and celebrates how all the arts flourished during his reign (1643-1715).

3. Why call a musical group after a 17th century French opera?

Because Les Arts Florissants was founded in Paris and specialises in performing music of the 17th century in a style and using instruments and techniques which were current at that time.

4. When was it founded?

In 1979.

5. Who founded it?

An American harpsichordist called William Christie.

6. Why?

Because he was doing some research in the National Library in Paris and had uncovered so many musical treasures from the archives which had never been performed since the reign of Louis XIV that he decided he should form his own ensemble of singers and instrumentalists to bring these great musical works back to life.

7. Does he still conduct them?

Yes, and under his guidance they have become one of the most highly-regarded “early music” groups in the world today.  But for their visit to Singapore, they are directed by the Scottish tenor Paul Agnew, who has sung with Les Arts Florissants for many years and often directs them in place of Christie.

8. Alongside Paul Agnew, who else is in Les Arts Florissants?

The ensemble is made up of highly skilled singers and instrumentalists who have established an international reputation as performers of early music.  The members coming to Singapore include five singers (sopranos, contraltos, tenors and basses), a theorbo player, a lute player and a harpsichordist.  These are the forces necessary to perform Monteverdi’s Madrigals as they were originally performed in the court of Mantova.

9. Madrigals are old songs about love and chivalry!  What’s interesting about them today?

Claudio Monteverdi wrote 161 Madrigals in 8 books published between 1587 and 1638.  They chronicle a fascinating period of change in both society and music, bridging the gap between the Renaissance and what we loosely refer to as the Baroque, and charting the development of music from simple songs to great operas.

10.  Why should we go and hear Les Arts Florissants perform them?

Paul Agnew has made an intense study of both Monteverdi himself and especially of his Madrigals.    As he writes; “The years in which the Madrigals we are performing in Singapore were published probably count amongst the most remarkable for the evolution of Eastern music. The works appearing in this programme form some kind of a grande finale for this genre which reigned over musical composition for over 150 years”.  Les Arts Florissants are travelling around the world performing Monteverdi’s Madrigals in honour of the composer’s 450th birthday.  They have also recorded them on their own label CDs.  You will not have heard these fascinating works performed with such knowledge, understanding and conviction before – and you may never get the chance to hear them again.  So this is a concert NOT TO BE MISSED!

Les Art Florissants will be performing at the YST Conservatory on 30 March, 7.30pm.