Video Clip - Orchestration project in Dorico. “Marie-Hubert” CD with Karina Gauvin

Fun project released last week on ATMA Classique. Celebrated Quebec soprano Karina Gauvin asked me to participate as adaptor/orchestrator for her album “Marie Hubert, Fille du Roy”. Taking folk songs from France, Acadia and Quebec mostly culled from Quebec’s “La bonne chanson” collection (alongside a couple of authored parlour songs), Karina created a timeline that mirrors the life of one of the “Filles du Roy” from whom she descends (see additional info below). I took those piano accompaniments and massaged, altered, added, removed etc… and orchestrated for wind quintet, string quintet, harp and piano. Often the first verse is a straight orchestration and then I distance myself from the original material as verses pile on; but I also endeavour to keep the overall spirit of the arrangement. Oscar O’Brien, in his arrangement of “Ah! Toi, belle hirondelle” below, is obviously inspired by Duparc’s “L’invitation au voyage”, and keeping that same feeling of soft waves carrying a ship is critical.

The song describes a woman asking a swallow to send a message to her beloved who is at sea. The swallow finds Alexis, and he offers his vow of fidelity as a message back. We really tried to blur the line between folk songs and art songs and this one is a great example. Many of the CD’s reviews so far mention Canteloube, which is flattering!

Everything was created using Dorico. I arranged 19 of the 21 tracks. The remaining two were for keyboard and voice only. The whole CD is a single Dorico file. We are doing a shortened version live in Montreal in June and I’ll just have to hide and move flows. What could be easier! The musicians, among Quebec’s best, were STUNNED by the quality of the output. The harpist in particular (Valérie Milot), told me that she is simply not used to receive such perfect parts. I’m immensely thankful for Dorico for its important contribution to this wonderful project.

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Additional info:

So who are those “Filles du Roy” that I mentioned above? They are often inaccurately represented IMHO.

The European population of New France was mostly made of men in the beginning of the settlements: soldiers, fur traders, and priests. In the 1660’s, since few women were wont to leave France to face Quebec’s climate, something had to be done to boost the population of an increasingly agrarian society, especially in light of a population boom south of the border.

Enter Jean Talon, the intendant of New France. Talon proposed that the King should sponsor passage of at least 500 women to the new colony. The King agreed and there followed a massive program of population growth. About 800 single women, largely from the Paris region and Normandy, most from fairly poor backgrounds, were sent to New France on a voluntary basis, and with a dowry sponsored by the crown. The cost of the crossing, as well as a trousseau, was also courtesy of the King. There was a very strict auditioning process for the young women. They were to display high moral calibre and be deemed physically fit to withstand life on the farm, a lifestyle that was unfamiliar to most of them. The amount of crown sponsorship is what earned their name of “Filles du Roy”, which I believe was coined by Sainte Marguerite Bourgeoys.

Once in new France, they were basically free to choose their husbands. Some entered contracts promptly but were free to break them if they had second thoughts. Some married fairly quickly, some took up to three years before committing, and others went back voluntarily. The “program” was, in many ways, extraordinarily forward-looking for the degree of flexibility offered to these potential brides. This flexibility is likely one of the reasons for the program’s success in terms of its repopulation aims. It started in 1669, and by 1671, there were already 700 births; it went on exponentially from there. New France’s population doubled by 1672, and on it went. Talon, an unusually gifted administrator, oversaw everything and displayed a great deal of skill and judgement throughout the process.

Of course, there is no way to romanticize this in any way. This was a tough decision to make, and sometimes was a decision made by desperate parents. Also, subsequent “recruits” were chosen among rural societies because the city ladies who made up the Filles du Roy did find life difficult on the farm. Nevertheless, from what I see in the records, the life expectancy of wives in New France does not seem to have been much different than back in France, in fact I think it may have been better (my first Quebec patrilineal ancestor’s mother-in-law, a Fille du Roy named Françoise Conflans, lived to the ripe old age of 88). The families were enormous, but like Bach’s children, many died in their first week, month or year. The other unromantic facet of this is of course the fact that there were already people in the area who had been there for thousands of years. First Nations people were already wary of these foreigners and were really panicked once they saw how fast these French settlers multiplied.

Nevertheless, I do find the Filles du Roy story fascinating. How much fear of the unknown they must have felt. By choice, or even by coercive persuasion from overburdened parents, these were very brave women. Some, like Jeanne Chevalier, also demonstrated a real independent spirit, especially in dealing with the whole dance of marriage contracts. It is written in many accounts that most French Quebecers are descended from at least one Fille du Roy. This is absurdly conservative. So far I have found 40 in my direct lineage. I have absolutely no doubt that I could find a dozen more quite easily. And this … again … applies to the whole population of French Canada. Since they are roughly my 8th great-grandmothers, it would be 52 FdR out of 512 8th great-grandmas. I’m trying really hard to imagine these young women on transatlantic wooden sail ships, crossing a dangerous sea and arriving on a strange land. It really showed settlers that women can take just as much c**p as men, and in fact more. So I salute you, Filles du Roy; not because of the cliché that I wouldn’t be here without you, but because, as is often the case with women of the time, you are unsung heroines of a difficult and complicated past.

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Great thanks for this fascinating piece of history I never heard of before. Beautiful project, fantastic arrangement, the Canteloube references are well-deserved. And — cowardly back on topic — what a compelling testimony to what you can achieve with Dorico.

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I’m always ready to share a paean to Dorico!

Bravo! The video is delightful as is your arrangement and Ms. Gauvin’s performance!

It’s also great to have more information on the Filles de Roi. Several years ago my wife was researching her ancestry and on learning of an ancestor who was a Filles de Roi wondered (briefly, as it turned out) if she had a royal ancestor, blue blood and all. Such was not the case but I consider her royalty regardless!

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Do not give up hope on that! Some Filles du Roy came from impoverished nobility. This conferred them the right to marry officers. In this way, I am actually descended from Charlemagne, which is no big deal as it is more common than one would think in France and Germany (he’s my 38th grandfather), but admittedly less so in Quebec. For many (or perhaps all) Quebecers descended from Charlemagne, the linchpin is Marie-Catherine de Baillon, Fille du Roy, who was born in the Yvelines, France, in 1645 and died in the Kamouraska region of Quebec in 1688. She managed in her short life to marry the officer Jacques Miville-Deschênes, also recently arrived from France and have a few kids including two sons who had a whole bunch of kids. One of those, Jean-Miville-Deschênes, had a few daughters and one of them goes to my dad. I am sure though that a lot of Quebecers would find Catherine Baillon in their ancestry. If one’s name is Miville-Deschênes, a pretty common name in Quebec (I’ve known a few, including the high-school supervisor of “secondaire 2” at my high-school, Pierre Miville-Deschênes), one is pretty much guaranteed that pedigree. If you are named Harel or Lizotte, you stand a very good chance as well. So more research on your wife’s ancestry could uncover a few surprises!

Thanks, Claude, for the detailed information in your last post! I have forwarded it to my wife so she can check for possible links to her family tree. In addition to a possible link to my wife, Elaine, through Marie-Catherine de Baillon, you and I share another link of sorts. Although my father lived virtually his whole life in BC he was born (in 1916) in Red Deer where I understand you conduct the symphony. As they say, it really is a small world!

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I hadn’t heard this folk song before, and I found the performance absolutely spine-tingling. Beautiful singing, beautiful playing – and of course beautiful arranging, Claude. Congratulations!

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In the sprit of true sharing, here are two pages of the score, and the harp part for “Hirondelle”. I think I can get away with posting these!

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Thank you for the kind words Daniel. This project was long in the making and we all worked very hard at it.

The reason you haven’t heard this folk song is likely because it’s actually from New France/Lower Canada. There are three types of French-language folk songs in French Canada: those native to Quebec (with the odd ones from French communities west of Quebec); those from Acadia; and those carried from France in the 17th century. Those from the latter category are very old and their origins are not always traceable. Those from the two former categories are more recent: 18th and 19th centuries mostly. Though they were popular in Quebec, these local songs didn’t travel as much except for “Vive la canadienne”, which is a Franco-Quebec hybrid. It is fortunate that a very influential Quebec ethnographer, Marius Barbeau, worked on collecting and researching these songs. “Ah! Toi belle hirondelle” was printed by Barbeau in The Journal of American Folklore in 1919, but may have appeared in print earlier. The use of the name “Alexis” likely dates it from the 18th century; but of that we can’t be certain.

The album uses six Quebec songs, one Acadian song, seven French Songs, two hybrid Franco-Quebec songs and five parlour songs with authors from the early 20th century.

European music in Quebec has a fairly long history. The first recorded “semi-composition” dates from 1642. Father Saint Jean de Brébeuf taught the nativity to a Waⁿdát (Huron) tribe using a text he wrote that is a marvel of syncretism (only a Jesuit would have been able to write this). He used the French melody “Une jeune pucelle”, a very popular Carol which you can hear in the second Kyrie of Charpentier’s “Messe de minuit” for example. The melody Brébeuf chose changed a great deal over time and unfortunately the song also ended up using a rather insipid English text by Jesse Edgar Middleton instead of a translation of the Wyandot composed by Brébeuf. So when you hear the Huron Carol nowadays, you’re not really hearing the Huron Carol!

Well, that’s it for the history lesson. Didn’t think I would write so much, but I guess French speakers also have the gift of gab!

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