February 2011

Rondeau from Suite de Symphonie No. 1 "Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper"

by Jean-Joseph Mouret

Jean-Joseph Mouret (pronounced ZHON-zho-SEF moor-AY) was born in 1682 in Avignon, France. His career as a composer was really pretty mediocre, and his music is not heard very often. He wrote some operas and some other instrumental works.

In 1729, Mouret wrote two Suite de Symphonies (Symphonic Suites). In his first one (which is named "Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper"), he starts it with a rondo (in French, rondeau, which is pronounced the essentially the same).

A rondo indicates a certain style of writing music. The word "rondo" comes from an earlier term "ritornello", which itself comes from the Italian word "ritornare", which means "to return". The idea is that you start with a main theme (A). This is followed by a new theme (B). Then you go back to the first theme (A). Then you introduce another theme (C). Then you come back to your first theme (A). Do you see the pattern? Every time after a new theme is introduced, you always return to the first theme. You also start and end the piece with that first theme.

So, if Mouret wasn't that well known, how did we come to know this piece of music? Well, it turns out that in 1971, PBS introduced the public to a new TV show called Masterpiece Theatre. This show would present well-known novels and biographies, often from the 19th century, and typically British or European in nature. The show was hosted by Alistair Cooke. Someone in the shows creative staff decided to use Mouret's Rondeau movement from his first Symphonic Suite as the theme to the show. Thus, instead of "Rondeau from Suite de Symphonie No. 1" by Mouret, it is much more commonly known as the Theme to Masterpiece Theatre.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure I would have first heard this piece as part of a commercial. I'm not sure that I ever watched Masterpiece Theater, but I was a huge fan of Sesame Street, and would watch the show well in to my teens (and beyond). As such, I would be watching PBS. Before and after Seasme Street, I would see commercials for other PBS shows. Inevitably this would include the Emmy Award-winning Masterpiece Theater, and they would, of course, play the theme during the commercial.

I would become more familiar with it through Sesame Street, as, in 1982, they introduced a parody called Monsterpiece Theater hosted by Alistair Cookie (Cookie Monster). They didn't use the Rondeau, but a sound-alike. The parody was very well-done, and was very endearing to me.

The first recording I heard of this piece was brought to me courtesy of the Watertown Public Library. It was a CBS Masterworks album that I've referenced before called "Baroque Favorites". This is still my favorite recording of this piece, and I was later to purchase it on CD. This is the recording you will hear.


And so, without further adieu (hey, it's French), here it is. Enjoy!

Rondeau from Suite de Symphonie No. 1 "Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper" by Jean-Joseph Mouret (1:51)

For those interested, this was taken from the "Baroque Favorites" album I previously mentioned. The album lists the performers, but it doesn't clearly match which performers are performing which piece. As this is very commonly performed by French ensembles, I'm going to guess that this was the La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy conducted by Jean-Claude Malgoire.

Jon's Interpretation:

This is a very proud fanfare. To me, it exemplifies culture, class, and sophistication. This is very likely due to its association with Masterpiece Theater.

I love this piece because not only is the first theme so majestic, Mouret does a marvellous job of returning you to this theme in the neatest ways possible. His final return to the theme is very powerful, and the timpani really adds to it. It just makes you feel great.

Extra Credit:

This has become a habit, but I thought I'd include the score, for those who may want to follow along.

Conductor's Score for Rondeau from Suite de Symphonie No. 1 "Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper" by Jean-Joseph Mouret

For those of you who may not have seen the introduction to Masterpiece Theatre, here it is (courtesy of YouTube):

Finally, I couldn't possibly resist also including the wonderful parody, Monsterpiece Theater. This episode is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". Enjoy!