Master class

René Jacobs, singer and teacher

Private music lessons

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René Jacobs — Teacher, countertenor

Maria Cristina Kiehr — Soprano (student)

Susanne Rydén — Soprano (student)

Olivier Bernager — A collection by

François Manceaux — A collection by

Program notes

In this masterclass, René Jacobs deals with the interpretation of Handel's vocal music in the company of two sopranos who have since become major artists in their own rights, Maria Cristina Kiehr and Susanne Rydén.

This film was the first in the series of "Private music lessons". It may be viewed today as a unique historical document on the interpretation of Baroque music in general and Handel in particular. René Jacobs and I had struck up a firm professional friendship after a series of breadcasts for the 'Le Matin des Musiciens' programme on France Musique. Over a week of fifteen hours of live radio - three hours each morning! - he sang, expounded the art of the countertenor in detail, and commented on music ranging from Purcell to Wagner. The newspaper Libération kept a close watch on the event, printing short notes describing the previous day's programme after initially announcing the series in a full-page article. At that time, no one could have known - for he spoke of it only in veiled terms and very rarely - that he was thinking about starting out on a conducting career. As a connoisseur of both the physiology of the voice and the science of singing, he was aware of his own fragility and could not be content with half-measures. The teaching that so enthused him, the musicological research that formed the basis of his work, were too far removed from the physical experience of music and its interpretation in concert. In order to remain close to sonic sensations, he was tu become a conductor and direct the masterpieces which he had hitherto performed as a vocalist. The film dates from those years of mutation.

In these images, shot by Claude Mouriéras in Super 16mm, we attend lessons given at a villa in Montepulciano in Tuscany to two of his young from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Maria Cristina Kiehr and Susanne Rydén, both destined to become well-known singers. Jacobs is at the harpsichord. He plays with relish while singing his examples.

The pertinence of his remarks, his laughing eyes, his smile and his direct way of expressing the finer points of Baroque vocal skills generate a communicative force that can still affect us today, more than twenty years Iater. His remarks on the approach to the text and its pronunciation, on the Baroque universe and its conventions and practices have lost none of their relevance; on the contrary, they are central to work as a conductor. The last scene of the film makes way for an impressive performance of Handel's Mi palpita il cor with three of the finest musicians working in the Baroque style at that time: Marc Hantaï on flute, Roel Dieltiens on cello, and Yvan Repérant on harpsichord. Jacobs sings what he has just explained, and the music is illuminated for the spectator.

Private music lessons: twelve hugely influential programmes broadcast by French television between 1987 and 1991. The guiding principle for Olivier Bernager and François Manceaux was to capture the art of the leading performers of our time, live in concert but also and above all in a teaching environment.

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