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French Baroque Drinking Songs

By Edited Oct 26, 2014 0 1

The Classical Music Nobody Told You About . . .

The Secret Early Musicians are Keeping for Themselves!

Who can think of France without thinking of wine? Certainly not the French Baroque composers! During the Baroque era, there were over two hundred and fifty books titled Airs Serieux et a Boire (in English, Serious and Drinking Songs) published in Paris alone -- a new collection of songs about drinking every three months from the 1690s on! The serious songs weren't all that serious, and the drinking songs were some of the most witty and amusing tales ever set to music! Whether a lament over an accidentally broken bottle of wine, or a husband thanking the invading Turks for taking his wife and leaving his wine cellar untouched, these songs are sure to leave you chuckling and admiring the music! 

Joseph Boudin de Boismortier

Pictured here is Joseph Boudin de Boismortier, one of the richest and most prolific of the Baroque French composers, who also composed many "Airs a boire." In this portrait, he certainly looks like he is enjoying himself!

Que voulez-vous donc que je chante?

In English, the above reads, "You don't like wine, love frightens you . . . so what then do you want me to sing about?" People often forget that classical music composers were men and women, just like any other man or woman. They were almost never saints, and almost never monks or nuns. Instead, they were ordinary people who enjoyed the kinds of things we all enjoy . . . including wine! Although we have drinking songs (especially French drinking songs) dating from the time of the troubadours and trouvères, it was in the Baroque era that we have the largest collection of preserved manuscripts, and so these songs are more prevalent. And if you like Baroque music, you are in luck!

Andre Campra
The portrait is of André Campra, famous for masses and operas, but composer of numerous "airs a boire."

Even though I graduated with a Master of Music degree with a specialization in early music, I did not discover that this music existed until I went to France to work! I was shocked to find this huge body of vocal literature completely untapped!

Courbois - Airs sérieux et à boire / Ensemble Almasis
Amazon Price: $15.98 $4.99 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 26, 2014)
This is one of the very few recordings of this kind of vocal literature. Most of the thousands of songs have never been recorded, although the scores still exist.

Okay, There is almost Nothing on Amazon

What about YouTube?

I looked, really I did. I typed in every lyric I could remember, I searched dozens of composers by name, I tried "drinking song" in every language I could think of . . . nothing. (Okay, I did find one, poorly done, I think, for artistic reasons, being that it's a song supposed to be sung by drunk people. It was awful. I will spare you.) There are a few Renaissance French drinking songs, such as the famous "Tourdion," but nothing (except that one awful video) from the Baroque era! Not a single video. Shhh . . . it's a secret. So far.

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Comments

May 19, 2013 9:29pm
KCAllen
This takes me back to high school French when our teacher taught us the drinking song Chevaliers sur la Table Ronde... You're right that online info is scarce, even in French. Wikipedia's "Vin et Culture" and "Chansons a Boire" don't really have much. I guess it is a well-kept secret.
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