The story of Dido and Aeneas

Composer: Various Composers ()
Share :


Composer: Various Composers ()

Performance date: 03/07/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Duration: 00:53:40

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation Category:Baroque Ensemble

Artists: Flavia Hirte [flute], Alice Earll [violin], Catriona McDermid [bassoon], Kate Conway [viola da gamba] Satoko Doi-Luck [harpsichord] - [Ensemble]

The story of Dido and Aeneas

The legend of Dido and Aeneas has provided inspiration for countless works of art across the ages. Purcell’s mini-opera may be the most widely-known musical retelling, but he was by no means the only composer to be captivated by Dido’s plight. Montéclair’s cantata La Mort de Didon provides a dramatic and pathetic foil to Purcell’s rendition, as an enraged Dido summons a terrible thunderstorm before faltering at the last moment. In this programme, English and French music from the time of Purcell and Montéclair provides context and insight, allowing us to build a picture of the artistic worlds that these composers inhabited.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier [1643-1704] 

Les Arts Florissants arr. Satoko Doi-Luck


The scene is set with the Ouverture to Charpentier’s Les Arts Florissants, an opera about the power of the arts. Charpentier, like all composers of the day, was dependent on the patronage of wealthy individuals (in his case, the Duchess of Guise, and ultimately, King Louis XIV of France) in order to work as a musician. Les Arts Florissants depicts a world where the arts thrive under the protection of Louis XIV, in a glowing tribute to the monarch. After a suitably majestic opening, the Ouverture settles into a carefree Tendrement. 

Henry Purcell [1659-1695]

Dido and Aeneas

Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment 

Thy hand, Belinda…When I am laid in earth 

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was based on Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid, and follows the story of Dido’s love for Aeneas and her subsequent despair and death. The first performance is thought to have been at a girls’ school in Chelsea, London, and the forces required are relatively minimal possibly as a result, with the opera also running to only an hour in length. The two famous arias presented here are composed over a ground bass, and show Dido’s torment through squeezed dissonances and languorous melodic lines. Purcell’s music demonstrates some similarities with French writing of the same period, and indeed Dido and Aeneas was originally composed with a French-style Prologue, the music for which is now lost.  

Pierre Gautier de Marseille [1642-1696]

Suite in C major

Trio – Rigaudon – Sarabande – Menuet – Menuet Rondeau – Passepied – L’embarras de Paris 

Pierre Gautier de Marseille was associated with Lully in his early career, and in 1684 was awarded the privilege to present operas in Marseille. By 1688, however, Gautier’s opera company was in severe financial difficulty, and he was imprisoned to pay for the debts. Not to be deterred, he returned later to Marseille and opened the city’s first opera house in 1693, running productions both in situ and on tour. Gautier’s good fortune did not last for long, and on return from performances in Montpellier in 1696, he was shipwrecked in a storm before he could reach Marseille. Gautier wrote a number of duos (or ‘symphonies’) and trios, including these selections from the Suite in C, all of which were published posthumously. 

Matthew Locke [1621-1677]

The Tempest 

Introduction – Galliard – Lilk  

Known as a composer of theatre music, Matthew Locke wrote eleven movements for Thomas Shadwell’s production of The Tempest, which was performed at the Duke’s Theatre, London, in 1674. Locke was engaged at the court of King Charles II as both Composer of the Wind Music and Composer for the Violins, the latter position being subsequently awarded to Henry Purcell. His music is often daring both harmonically and rhythmically, and reflects the upheaval and political turmoil of the period.  

Michel Pignolet de Montéclair [1667-1737]

La Mort de Didon from Cantates à vois seule et avec simonie, Livre I 

During the Baroque era, much thematic material for cantatas was drawn from classical mythology. Audiences would have been well versed in these tales, either directly, through Latin texts, or more indirectly, as a result of plays, paintings and operas. Montéclair therefore provides us with only a snapshot of Dido’s story as, abandoned, she debates her next move. In the opening Récit, we hear surges of anger from the violin and continuo, before an Air featuring the flute details a plea to Venus. Dido then calls on the sea gods to create a raging thunderstorm, but in a striking about-turn, asks the gods to have mercy on Aeneas and quell the storm. In despair, she kills herself with a dagger that Aeneas has given her. French cantatas of this period often end with a cautionary moral, and La Mort de Didon is no exception. The audience hears how dangerous love can be, and how it is better to avoid love’s treacherous advances altogether than to chance becoming ensnared. 

John Jenkins [1592-1678]

Sonata in D for violin, viola da gamba and continuo 

John Jenkins was noted for his contribution to repertoire for the viola da gamba, and in particular the viol consort. His long career saw him overlap with both Byrd and Purcell, and encounter huge changes both politically and musically. The Sonata in D is written in free-flowing stylus fantasticus form, with short contrasting sections creating abrupt changes of mood. After a serene start, imitative and conversational passages give way to musical fireworks, before the sonata concludes in a contemplative fashion.  

Jean-Baptiste Lully [1632-1687]

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme – Chaconne 

One of the most famous French Baroque composers, Jean-Baptiste Lully was employed at the court of Louis XIV for most of his life. He was a close collaborator of Molière, and wrote music for a large number of the playwright’s comédie-ballets, including Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, which poked fun at the pretensions and snobbery of the upper classes. During the performance, dances such as this Chaconne would be interspersed with the dramatic action, providing interludes or reflections on the narrative. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme was premiered at Chambord in 1670, with both Molière and Lully featured amongst the cast. But by 1672, the collaboration between these two giants of the French Baroque scene had ended in acrimony, with Molière turning to Charpentier for music for his final productions. 

Michel Lambert [1610-1696]

Vos mépris from Airs à une, II. III. et IV. parties avec la basse-continue

Lully’s father-in-law, Michel Lambert, was also a well-known figure at Louis XIV’s court, first appearing as a ballet dancer and progressing to hold posts such as Maître de musique de la chambre du roi. He was held in high regard as a Maître de chant, and was a prolific composer of dramatic airs. Vos mépris, with its evocative use of a ground bass, creates a sound-world not dissimilar to Purcell’s When I am laid in earth, but the contradiction between the pain and pleasure of love is here afforded a distinctly French style, with sinuous lines drawing to a conclusion that is powerful in its understatement.

Kate Conway