Old opera tunes, ballet favorites — two years before his death in 1715, King Louis XIV of France had his music master organize some personal evening concerts of favorite pieces from his younger days.
Twenty-three years ago, Northwest baroque flutist Jeffrey Cohan discovered that manuscript hidden in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris — and luckily copied the index and parts before the original was once more lost. This month in Tacoma, Cohan and his cohorts from the Salish Sea Early Music Festival bring Louis XIV’s playlist to life again in concerts at Mason Methodist Church that include Renaissance woodwinds and French baroque works.
“This was music performed by a smaller group of favored (court) musicians, songs that were popular five decades earlier,” says Cohan, of the manuscript that includes a printed table of contents and handwritten parts for two high, one middle and two low instruments. “(The king) really wanted to hear music from his youth.”
Cohan, who has not been able to locate the manuscript again online or in the library’s catalog, performed several of the 67 suites at Salish Sea concerts two years ago. This Saturday, he’ll perform another set, along with Courtney Kuroda on baroque violin, Steve Creswell on viola and Anna Marsh on baroque bassoon. Other than a microfilm copy at Stanford, Cohan knows of no one else in the world familiar with the suites.
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“I’m confident that these suites have not been performed in recent history,” he says.
Along with the unique discovery comes the tricky part: interpretation of music that would have been well-known, though old fashioned, in 1713 (rather like Elvis today) and so have few printed guidelines for performance: rhythm values, trill styles, even which instruments to use.
“There was a secret language never described in words between the musicians on how to play certain pieces,” Cohan says.
The second of the trio of concerts Wednesday (Jan. 25) features Cohan on Renaissance flute — a cylindrical bore instrument that’s rarely heard — and Marsh on dulcian, the Renaissance forerunner of the bassoon, plus Henry Lebedinsky on organ and harpsichord.
“The language is not like later baroque pieces — like the long chromatic passages,” Cohan says.
On Feb. 1, Cohan will join Susie Napper on viola da gamba and Hans-Juergen Schnoor on harpsichord to play French baroque music of the kind heard in the film “Tous les Matins du Monde” — lush, emotional pieces by Marais, Lully, Sainte-Colombe and more.
Four concerts from March to June fill out the season, along with concerts in Seattle, Vancouver, Bellingham, Port Townsend, Leavenworth, and San Juan, Vashon and Whidbey islands.
Salish Sea Early Music Festival
When: 7 p.m. Saturday “A Little Concert for Louis XIV”; 7 p.m. Jan. 25 “Renaissance Winds”; 7 p.m. Feb. 1 “French Baroque: Viola da gamba and friends.”
Where: Mason United Methodist Church, 2610 N. Madison St., Tacoma.
Tickets: Suggested donation, $15-$25.