Les Caractères de la Danse at the Lutherse Kerk, The Hague

Ensemble Odyssee presented by Musica Antica

Tonight’s programme focused on music from around the reign Louis XIV, the French Sun King. The addition of a dancer in the shape of the delightful Mojca Gal was inspired. Ms Gal appeared at times as a pixie-ish boy or as an elegant frock-coated dancer. Her eloquent, precise foot work was astonishing in its complexity.

The King was a great dance enthusiast. When still a boy he was trained in ballet and at the age of fourteen appeared in a performance, dressed as the sun. From that moment on he was known by his sobriquet.

Whether one can imagine him on pointed toes, dancing well in later years, with all the apparel of voluminous, heavy clothing heavy with golden embroidery and jewels, sporting the vast multi-storey wigs of the time, not the mention the well-documented embonpoint, is rather difficult – although the dances of the time did not involve the upper body, they demanded much fine foot and toe work, the twirling of well-shaped calves and a great deal of hopping around. Anyone who would have dared tell the Sun King he was a poor dancer would surely have lost his head by next morning. Be that as it may, the king did much to promote music and the development of dance. In those days it was a sign of high breeding to be a proficient dancer – anyone aspiring to a position in politics had to be fleet of foot on the dance floor. Posture and grace were everything.  

In his enthusiasm Louis XIV commissioned endless dance pieces from the likes of Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Jean-Jacques Hotteterre, Jean-Féry Rebel. When he asked the great Jean Baptiste Lully to write him a dance suite it is said that he was unable to dance it – Lully must have quaked in his boot.

The music this evening was faultless, played with verve and feeling. Eva Saladin and David Alonso Molina on violin, Anna Stegmann and Georg Fritz on a variety of recorders, Israel Castillo Hernandex on viola da gamba, Agnieszka Oszanca on cello and Andrea Friggi on clavichord created a wonderfully rich and broad sound so typical of this early French music. My favourite piece of the performance was Sonnerie de Ste. Geneviève du Mont de Paris by Marin Marais, a hypnotising piece for violin, viola da gamba and clavichord, a piece which could almost be considered modern.

A very enjoyable evening in the beautiful Lutherse Kerk in The Hague. Look out for future events from Musica Antica if you like your early music in a wonderful setting.  Astrid Burchardt    14th February 2020