Fleur De Lys- The Solo Suite
before Bach Nicolas HOTMAN(1610-1663)
Suite in d minor [17:39] Le Sieur DUBUISSON(?-1688)
Suite in d minor [11:04] Le Sieur DE MACHY(?-1692)
Suite No. 4 in G [14:32] Jean DE SAINTE COLOMBE(c.1615-c.1701)
Suite in d minor [21:27] Marin MARAIS(1656-1728) Tombeau pour Mr. de Ste. Colombe* [06:18]
Charles Medlam (viola da gamba), William Carter (theorbo) (*)
rec. 22-23 March 2010, The Studio, Brick Kiln Cottage, Hollington,
Hampshire, UK. DDD CELLO CLASSICS CC1028 [71:04]
It’s ironic, isn't it, that this disc of French music
for viola da gamba appears on the Cello Classics label. The
Italian in the first half of the 18th century was in the process
of superseding the viola da gamba, the symbol of everything
that was French in music. This was the direct reason a certain
Hubert Le Blanc published a book in Amsterdam in 1740, called
Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises
du violon et les prétentions du violoncelle (A Defence
of the bass viol against the ventures of the violin and the
pretensions of the violoncello). Le Blanc, a lawyer by profession,
was a staunch admirer of the traditional French style. The title
of the third part of his book is telling: "A method to make
all music playable on the Viol". It was a final stand designed
to save the bass viol from extinction.
For Le Blanc the heyday of the viola da gamba was the time of
Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray. Their works are also attracting
much attention today, and they are well represented on disc.
This may give the impression that music for viola da gamba always
came with a part for basso continuo. But that is not the case.
The music of previous generations, in particular that of the
mid-17th century, receives far less attention. At that time
most pieces were written for solo viol, without accompaniment.
Even the first book of Marais, which appeared in 1686, was first
printed with only a part for the bass viol. An additional part
for the basso continuo was printed three years later. It is
an indication that in this book the basso continuo is optional.
The first three composers in the programme are largely unknown
quantities. Not that much is known about them. Nicolas Hotman
was not of French birth. According to Charles Medlam he was
from Flanders, others believe his roots were in Germany. He
moved to France at a young age: in 1626 he became a French citizen,
in 1655 he was employed by the King's brother, and in 1661 he
entered the service of Louis XIV himself, as the successor of
Louis Couperin. In a treatise on the viol from 1687 Hotman is
called "the first in France to compose real Pièces d'Harmonie
on the viol, to compose beautiful melodies and to imitate the
voice." At his time the design of the suite had not been formalised.
His Suite in d minor begins with two allemandes, which
are followed by a courante with a double, a sarabande, a bourée
and two ballets, embracing a gigue.
Soon virtually every suite contained a sequence of allemande,
courante, sarabande and gigue, often preceded by a prélude.
In many suites other pieces were added, like a gavotte or a
ballet, and often they ended with a chaconne or a passacaille.
One composer who extended the suite this way was Jean de Sainte
Colombe, who was a pupil of Hotman. He remains a somewhat mystical
character. For a long time even his Christian name wasn't known,
and he was usually referred to as Sieur de Sainte Colombe. The
American gambist Jonathan Dunford discovered that his Christian
name was Jean. He also found strong evidence that he was a Huguenot,
which would explain why he never had any official position at
the court and that at the end of the 17th century disappeared
from public life. This could have been the effect of Louis XIV
revoking the Edict of Nantes and declaring Protestantism illegal.
It could also explain why, according to a newspaper, his son
lived in London in 1718. In the Suite in d minor the
courante and the sarabande have a double - an ornamented version
of the preceding dance - a gavotte and a ballet, and proceedings
end with a chaconne. Sainte-Colombe was the teacher of Marin
Marais, who composed the moving tribute to his teacher which
ends this disc.
Dubuisson was from Picardy and only seems to have adopted the
name of 'Du Buisson' later in his life, adding that he was a
'bourgeois de Paris'. More than a hundred pieces for unaccompanied
viol by Dubuisson have survived, and the dissemination of his
compositions outside France shows that his music was highly
appreciated. His Suite in d minor has the four traditional
dances, preceded by a prélude and followed by a ballet
with a double. The allemande also has a double.
It is very likely Le Sieur de Machy was a pupil of Dubuisson.
He had a position at the court and was the first to publish
pieces for viol in 1685. He added a foreword in which he gave
many hints in regard to the way the viol should be played. The
Suite No. 4 in G is from this collection. To the four
dances he added a prélude and a gavotte en rondeau. The
suite ends with a chaconne.
This chaconne is the only piece (except Marais' Tombeau)
of which I could find another performance in my collection.
It was recorded by the Belgian gambist Philippe Pierlot, and
was recently reissued as part of a set of discs devoted to the
shift from the viol to the violin and the cello in France (Ricercar
RIC 296). The difference between his performance and Charles
Medlam's is huge. One would think they are playing different
pieces. Charles Medlam's playing is straightforward, and rather
stiff and wooden, whereas Pierlot's interpretation is full of
zest and passion. In a recent interview Pierlot said that he
was hugely impressed by the subtlety of French baroque music
and he believes the performers went even further than the very
detailed indications in the music indicate. He specifically
warned against flat performances. And that is exactly what we
get here, I'm afraid.
Hotman was admired for the "tenderness of his playing" with
which he "charmed all those who heard him". I found his Suite
in d minor rather uninteresting, and that is probably more
due to Charles Medlam's playing than to the quality of Hotman's
music. The Suite in d minor by Dubuisson comes off best,
and some movements from the Suite in G by De Machy and
the Tombeau by Marais are relatively well done. But in
general I am quite disappointed about these performances which
lack the elegance and the aristocratic splendour which is so
characteristic of this repertoire. That is particularly regrettable
as there are so few recordings with French music for unaccompanied
Johan van Veen
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