The Stag Hunt is part of a long collaboration with the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini, with whom I created The Full Monteverdi (feature, 2007). Janequin’s ‘La chasse’ (1537) is a piece they have performed many times over the years and one to which they wanted to give a larger life, taking music that is often considered obscure and presenting it in a way that might reach a wider public.
‘La chasse’ is a bit of a paradox, in that it tells a story but does so in a way that makes it hard to follow. Janequin wrote it for the enjoyment of singers, who could appreciate the piece’s wit with reference to the printed parts, while important words and meanings are often hidden from listeners by his vivid musical invention.
Since Janequin did not really write for an audience, turning his music into a narrative short film of broad appeal poses something of a challenge. The camera, however, allows us to focus on details that evade the ear and to steer the eye’s attention to twists in the plot; subtitles take on a greater role and clarify meanings and metaphors (even for Francophones), and animation offers all manner of opportunities to present action and paint pictures. With these tools in hand, it is possible to suggest characters who drive the story forward, who are invested in how it ends, and whose relationships engage us in their journey.
What that journey represents then becomes significant, especially in an age when hunting for fun is less widely acceptable and when lethal greed has such tangible repercussions for contemporary society. On a practical level, it would have been hard to glorify hunting on our budget but lacking the luxury to film singers on horseback led us down a different path, a solution that adds a layer of irony which Janequin may never have intended. It is a perspective that may, perhaps, resonate with audiences today: a modern satire on the sport of kings and those who seek to win at the cost of the world around them.