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Anne Chabanceau De La Barre (1628 - 1688): a portrait

She was born in an era when people searched for different ways to touch the most intimate parts of the soul. Music was considered by the scholars to be the ultimate harmony of the universe. Philosophers as Descartes and Mersenne discussed the ideas of the ancient Greeks.  It was also a time in Paris when men and women were gathered in small academies "pour le bel esprit".

Court diarist Jean Loret recounts on the 29th of September, 1652 " …Mais, à propos de ce concert, Mademoizelle de La Barre, don’t la voix si nette et si rare passoit en douceur le gozier d'un rossignol sur un rozier, s'en va porter dans la Suéde ce beau talent qu'elle posséde, dont elle enchantoit tour-a-tour tantôt Paris, tantôt la Cour. O fille excélente et divine, dont la voix et la grande mine te feront aimer en tout lieu, je te dis mille fois adieu! Je croy qu'aux climats de Neptune tu ne courras nulle fortune, car, si les vents ou flots mutins vouloient faire illec les badins, tes chants, tes apas, ton vizage, auroient bien-tôt calmé l'orage." (…Anne Chabanceau de La Barre, whose voice so clear and so rare, surpasses in sweetness a nightingale’s trills on a rose-bush, is taking to Sweden this beautiful talent that she possesses, by which she enchanted in turn Paris and the court.  O excellent and divine maiden, whose voice and great appearance will make you loved everywhere, I say a thousand times farewell!  I believe that on Neptune’s waters, you will face no danger, for if the winds and mutinous waves wanted to tease you there, your songs, your charms, your face, would soon calm the storm)

After undertaking some research around her life and career, more questions arise which as yet remain unanswered.

She was born in Paris during 1628 (baptised on the 3rd July in Saint-Josse) into the family de La Barre, which had an important influence on the musical scene in Paris from the end of the 16th century. As a young girl, Anne was exposed to a rich cultural and musical life. In 1647 when the Italian composer Luigi Rossi came to Paris to put on his opera "Orfeo", he expressed his admiration for her excellent vocal interpretations. After enjoying the music performed by Anne and her colleagues he said: "to make music pleasant for the ear, you will need Italian arias expressed through French mouths". 

Anne grew up in an environment were new styles and patterns were found in music. Her father, being the organist of the Royal chapel and the queen's spinettist, was in 1650 one of the first to organise public concerts in his home, 'des concerts spirituels'. Jacques de Gouy describes her in the following way: "…et sur tout Mademoiselle de la Barre, que Dieu semble avoir choisie pour inviter à son imitation toutes celles de son sexe, à chanter les grandeurs de leur Createur, au lieu des vanitez des Creatures."  (…and above all Mlle de La Barre, whom God seems to have chosen to invite all those of her sex to follow her in singing the glories of their Creator, instead of the vanities of earthly Creatures.) 

            Anne performed at her father's concerts, but also at court and during other ceremonies. Count Magnus Gabriel de La Gardie was sent to Paris in 1646 in order to find Queen Christina musicians for her Swedish court. This I believe could have been the way Anne de la Barre became known to Queen Christina. It could well have been that de La Gardie met with French court musicians while visiting the salons that were held in the city. Perhaps one of these was the concert spirituel held in the house of Pierre Chabanceau de La Barre.

Queen Christina invited Anne to her court in 1648 but it was not until the end of 1652 that Anne left Paris in company of her two younger brothers Joseph and Pierre(v). They first stopped in Holland at The Hague as guests of Constantijn Huygens.  They were persuaded to stay and enjoy his home during the winter months and their departure must have taken place shortly after 12th February 1653, although at this stage Pierre decided to return to Paris to be the father.

Their exact route is not known. It could well be that they sailed to Sweden, since the Dutch had an important trade with the countries in the North.

Due to outbreak of the pest in Stockholm, the court had moved to Uppsala during the spring of 1654. On the 8th of February the English ambassador B. Whitelocke was invited for a concert in Uppsala Castle, or to be even more precise, in the chamber of the Queen. Afterward he was wrote in his journal: "…to heare her majesty's musicke, which was very rare, and performed by divers italian eunuches, and others, her servants, and by madame de la Barre, a french woman, and her brother, who sang rarely well".

Anne was an enormous success. Being a woman and a well-trained singer in both French and Italian styles, placed her in a luminous light along with the castratos that toured Europe at that time. In addition to this she was described as a very beautiful woman and a good dancer, which must have made her irresistible to Queen Christina.

It is not know exactly what prompted Anne and Joseph to set off on their trip as far as to the Nordic countries. Anne was certainly a brave and adventurous character with the love of discovering new territories and experiences. It could perhaps have been that Joseph was involved in diplomatic matters? Maybe his stay in Sweden wasn't only meant for entertaining the Queen with music and dancing? Christina was to convert from protestant to catholic, and she kept secret correspondence with important catholics in Europe such as Cardinal Mazarin. Joseph was in fact later appointed as Abbé in the Abbey Saint-Hilaire in Narbonne. Or what about love? Could Anne have been in love with somebody in Sweden? Maybe a musician, French or Italian? Or perhaps Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie himself became infatuated by her voice and her beauty?

The Queen abdicated in June 1654 and in August the Royal accounts showed that Anne received 5 ¼ carafe of German Rheine wine for her journey back to France.

            The Danish Queen then late invited Anne and Joseph to her court. She did not want to be seen to be less important than the neighbouring Queen and this was a perfect opportunity. Although this stay became a much shorter one than that in Sweden. It could be that Anne and Joseph were too expensive for court-music, since the Danish wanted to follow the fashion as in the rest of Europe, employing an Italian group of musicians. Maybe the weather was too harsh, since Joseph became ill in Denmark. For whatever reason, they decided to head south through Kassel, invited by the Count William of Hessen. Anne and Joseph's arrival in Paris was loudly announced in December 1654.

Accustomed to the Parisian lifestyle once again, Anne reached the highest point of her career, while Jean-Baptiste Lully during the same period was making his first attempts on what was to become the first French opera. He produced one court-ballet after another. In 1656, during the carneval, the "Ballet de La Galanterie de Temps" was performed and Anne, with the Italian singer Signora Anna Bergerotti, sang a dialogue, accompanied by the guitarist Francesco Corbetta, the two de La Barre brothers and 'les petits violons'.

            In 1659 Anne and Signora Anna were again heard together in the "Ballet Royal d'Alcidiane".  (It is known that Queen Christina was in the audience during one of the performances.) In the "Ballet Royal de la Raillerie" (1659) Lully is ironically playing with both Italian and French music. A dialogue was set between two entries and the two singers are performing, each one of them in their own language, styles and true spirits.

            People were talking about Anne with warmth and admiration. She performed at the major events at the Court, and in 1661 she was awarded the prestigious and rare title 'fille ordinaire de la chambre du Roy'.

            In 1662 Francesco Cavalli's opera "Ercole Amante" was performed. As the only French singer in the actual opera, Anne had two parts: 'la Bellezza' and 'l'Ombra de la Clerica Regina'. It shows again her ability to performing the Italian style.          

Outside the glamorous encounters at the Court, Anne and some other singers performed at religious ceremonies. For example, at l'Eglise aux Feuillants, a monastery belonging to the Court, they performed together with Michel Lambert his 'Leçons de Ténèbres'. 

Anne was still actively performing up to 1664 when she sang in 'La Princesse d'Elide' at Versailles. She met Antoine Coquerel and married in 1667. This seems to have ended her career at Court, even though, shortly after marrying she became widow. She did however retain her title and stayed on the official pension list until her death, in 1688.


Copyright © 2004 Elisabeth Belgrano. All rights reserved.
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