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ClassicsOnline Home » PAISIBLE: 6 Setts of Aires
Jacques Paisible (c.1656-1721)
Six Setts of Aires
Born in France, the composer, recorder player and oboist Jacques (James) Paisible lived and worked in London for more than forty years. He arrived in England from his native France in 1673 together with his compatriot Robert Cambert and a number of other French musicians, and started his new professional life playing the oboe, an instrument recently adapted in France from the shawm, and practically unknown elsewhere. In 1675 he played the recorder in Calisto: Or, the Chaste Nimph, a masque written by John Crowne with music by Nicholas Staggins, Master of the King's Musick. This lavish entertainment, staged at Whitehall Palace, was the first in Paisible's life-long association with the royal household. He obtained a licence to marry Mary (Moll) Davis - a retired singer, actress and dancer who had famously borne a daughter, Lady Mary Tudor, to King Charles II in 1673. They were married on 4 December 1686, and according to his own testimony, he was then 'about 30'. This is at present the only source for his date of birth. It is therefore possible to assume that he was born around 1656, the year of the celebrated viola da gamba virtuoso Marin Marais' birth in Paris.
Like his contemporary Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Paisible became very active as a supplier of instrumental music for London theatre productions. He wrote pieces for plays, such as Timon of Athens (1678), Bancroft's Edward III performed at Drury Lane Theatre in 1690, Oroonoko (1695), The Spanish Wives (1696), King Henry IV (1700) and Love's Stratagem in 1703. The list of his works also includes several compositions for one or two recorders (published in London and Amsterdam), overtures, songs and dances. Most of the latter were written on the occasion of Queen Anne's birthday celebrations, a task which he carried out for almost twenty years. Although he was an accomplished oboist and string player as well as an able singer, the core of his reputation was founded on his abilities as a recorder virtuoso. Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach, the German traveller and collector, who attended a public concert in London in which Paisible had participated, praised him as being a flautist 'without equal'.
Some of Paisible's colleagues performing at London principal theatres also wrote and published similar pieces to those presented here. Gottfried Keller, William Babel, Johann Christian Schickhardt and Gottfried Finger, to mention but a few, produced works which were played both at public concerts and during theatre intervals. In addition, works such as these were in demand by a growing number of amateurs. There is plenty of documented evidence that Paisible and other instrumentalists regularly performed this kind of repertoire in such London venues as York Buildings, Richmond
Wells and Hickford's Room. One of his last public appearances took place on 9th May 1719, playing 'A new Piece for the Ecchoe Flute' at Drury Lane. He died two years later and was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields on 17th August 1721.
The terms 'Setf’, 'Self of Aires' and ‘Self of Lessons' are to be found in English music during the last quarter of the seventeenth century and were in common usage for some sixty years (1670-1730). These 'Setts' correspond to the French 'suite' which designated a group of dances in the same key to be played as a whole, a practice that can be traced back as far as 1557. By the second half of the seventeenth century the French suite had evolved into a basic structure organized around four main dances: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. It soon became customary however, to add a few more pieces -- mainly fashionable dances and movements from ballets: Preludes, Minuets, Bourrées, Gavottes, Aires, Rondeaus and so on. In these particular setts, Paisible inserts, among others, a Hornpipe (an old dance already mentioned by Thomas Morley in 1597), a Scotch Aire, several Marches (surely inspired by the 'Military Musick Bands' in which he may have played the oboe) and three Entrées.
John Walsh published Paisible's Six Setts of Aires for two Flutes & a Bass in London in 1720 at a time when French style, so much in vogue in England during the reigns of the Stuart Kings Charies II, James II and William and Mary (1660-1702), had gradually fallen out of fashion. On the other hand, the Italian style had been making its way into England during the early eighteenth century. The rising popularity of the violin as a solo instrument in Italy, and the subsequent decline of the recorder around this time had forced many skilled recorder players out of their country in search of better fortune. London provided an exceptionally convenient destination, and, together with the influence of the newly arrived Italian opera in 1705, these musicians helped to set the trend for the Italian taste. It is no wonder then that although the majority of the movements in Paisible's setts sound French in many ways, certain Italianate qualities can easily be discerned. Some movements are even overtly Italian - hence the use of tempo indications such as Largo and Allegro in three of the setts. To summarise, these compositions are representative of this transitional period, before the more 'international' baroque style of Telemann and J.S. Bach had finally come to maturity a few years later - when the French and the Italian styles were gradually blending together.
A short clarification of the use of 'flute' and 'recorder' in England in the period between 1675 and 1720 approximately, may be useful here. An earlier, simpler type of instrument, known in fact as a 'recorder', had been in use for more than 150 years before the introduction of the newly improved French baroque version in the 1670's (very probably by Paisible and his colleagues in 1673). The French names 'flûte', 'flûte douce' and 'flûte à bec' began to be used to describe this new model. The transverse flute - still exclusively made of wood - was known as 'German flute' or 'traversa'. Thus it is certain that Paisible's Six Setts of Aires for two Flutes & a Bass were intended for the baroque recorder as we know it today and not for the transverse flute. They are indeed very idiomatic pieces, evidently written by someone who was in command of a thorough technique. The practice of writing a bass line, which provides a harmonic and rhythmic support to the solo parts, was one of the main features of baroque music. Throughout Paisible's lifetime it was common to play the bass part, also known as continuo, with the instrument(s) at hand: harpsichord, organ, theorbo, lute, viola da gamba and bassoon. In considering the character of each piece, we have chosen some plausible options, which are by no means thought to be exclusive of other possibilities.
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PAISIBLE: 6 Setts of Aires