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William Christie

Long a leading figure in the early music performance movement, William Christie has been especially influential in restoring opera and French music to their rightful places in the Baroque repertory. He is the harpsichordist and leader of the ensemble Les Arts Florissants. Christie was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1944, and studied piano and organ as a young man. He attended Harvard, graduating with an art history degree and switching to music only for graduate study at the Yale School of Music. His teacher there was the pioneering harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, best known for his rediscovery and thorough exploration of the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Christie moved to France in 1971; eventually, he not only became a French citizen but also was named a member of the Legion of Honor. Like many other early music performers who have done stints in the contemporary music world, Christie participated in premieres of work by such notables as Luciano Berio and Morton Feldman as a member of the Five Centuries Ensemble between 1971 and 1975. Between 1976 and 1980, he played keyboards for the early music group Concerto Vocale, led by René Jacobs. In 1979, Christie founded Les Arts Florissants, an ensemble devoted to French, English, and Italian music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The group has done much to revive the difficult genre of French Baroque opera, with its arcane declamatory style, and it has exposed a great deal of neglected French Baroque choral repertory. Working with leading stage designers and choreographers, Christie has had special success with the operas of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau, rightful mainstays of the operatic repertory in their own times, but almost forgotten since then. He has remained active into senior citizenhood. Another facet of Christie's accomplishment has been his role in training younger musicians, first as a professor at the Paris Conservatoire from 1982 to 1995, and then at the helm of his own Les Jardins des Voix training program; many of its young singers were featured on his recordings. Since 1994, Christie and Les Arts Florissants have recorded for the major label Erato. That year saw the release of the Les Arts Florissants recording of Monteverdi's magnificent Vespro della Beata Vergine (the Vespers of 1610). The group has also recorded for Harmonia Mundi, and it has continued to record for both labels into the early 2020s. Christie's catalog of recordings is probably unmatched in size by any other conductor in the historical performance field, comprising at least 120 albums. That accomplishment was made all the more impressive by the sheer mastery of unknown repertory it entailed on Christie's part: while some of his recordings with Les Arts Florissants, including their 2017 reading of Bach's Mass in B minor, BWV 232, have featured common repertory items, a large majority have involved previously unrecorded French operas and choral works for which Christie had no established tradition from which to draw. The year 1992 alone saw the release of eight new Les Arts Florissants albums, all of them featuring previously obscure material. The coronavirus year of 2021 saw the release of two new Christie albums on Harmonia Mundi, N'esperez plus mes yeux: Airs sérieux et à boire, Vol. 3, with Les Arts Florissants, and Générations: Senaillé, LeClair - Sonates pour violon et clavecin, featuring Christie on harpsichord with violinist Théotime Langlois de Swarte.
© James Manheim & TiVo Staff /TiVo


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