When it comes to food, the culinary traditions of France and Italy are easy to distinguish: The refined elegance of classic French cuisine stands in sharp contrast to the bolder flavors of the Italian table. So, too, it is in music, particularly during the baroque era, where the contrast in culture and temperament is as different as butter and olive oil.
This war of taste between French and Italian musical styles, raging heatedly in the mid-18th century during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV, will be brought to life by early music ensemble Chatham Baroque at 8 p.m. tomorrow in Smith Theatre, Howard Community College under the auspices of Candlelight Concerts.
Featuring Julie Andrijeski on baroque violin, Patricia Halverson on viola da gamba, Scott Pauley on theorbo and baroque guitar, Steven Schultz on flute and Barbara Weiss on harpsichord, the performance "Les Nations: All in Good Taste" will explore the music of French court composers Fran?ois Couperin, Robert de Visee, and Marin Marais as well as Louis-Antoine Dornel, juxtaposed with that of their Italian contemporary Arcangelo Corelli and internationally famous German composers Georg Philipp Telemann and Georg Frideric Handel.
The French style, according to Francois Raguenet in 1702, sought to portray "the Soft, the Easie, the Flowing." This was the king's music: Couperin, Marais, and Visee were musicians at the court of the Sun King -- Louis XIV -- where Visee regularly played at the king's bedside in the evenings.
French music of this period is ornate and finely wrought, but intended for performance "by a gentleman, who was of course not allowed to sweat in public," says Mark Janello, harpsichordist and professor of music theory at the Peabody Conservatory.
Italian music of the same period, however, was considered comparatively "bold and adventurous," according to Raguenet, full of tart harmonies, harsh dissonances, and violent contrasts.
This is "sweaty and muscular music," says Janello, requiring technical virtuosity and the ability to improvise on the spot.
Less restrained and more extroverted than the French baroque, the Italian style instead aimed to portray the passions of soul and spirit.
Chatham Baroque, whose performers also trained as scholars, is well-equipped to illuminate the differences between these national styles.
The concert opens with Corelli's Sonata in D minor, then turns to French music with Dornel's Premiere Suite in G major and Couperin's Apotheose de Lulli, the composer's homage to his mentor, the esteemed French court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Returning to Italianate music, the second half features an early work by Handel, the Sonata in B minor, followed by a suite of pieces by Visee and Marais, and concluding with one of Telemann's Paris quartets, the Premier Quatuor in D major.
The French and Italian styles were very much in vogue with 18th-century audiences in Paris, despite intense partisan musical and cultural politics. And both retain their appeal for today's audiences: whether one prefers garlic or cream sauce, there is something on this program bound to please all tastes.
Tickets for tomorrow's performance are $29, $26 for those ages 60 and older, and $12 for students to age 24. Tickets and information: 443 367-3123, or e-mail info@candlelight concerts.org. A talk will be given by Bill Murphy, beginning at 6:45 p.m.