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Louis Caix d'Hervelois (c1677-1759)
Dans le sillage de Marin Marais
[Suite in G minor/major] for viola da gamba and bc
[Suite in E minor] for viola da gamba and bc
Suite in D for transverse flute and bc
La Berg-op-Zoom for viola da gamba and bc
Plainte (transcribed for theorbo)
La la Fernay (transcribed for guitar)
Suite in G minor/major for pardessus de viole and bc
Suite in D minor/major for viola da gamba and bc
bc=basso continuo
La Rêveuse
rec. 2020, Château de Chambord, France

French music for viola da gamba of the 17th and 18th centuries is frequently played and recorded. Three composers of such music are very well-known: Marais Marais, his teacher Sieur de Sainte-Colombe, and Antoine Forqueray. The disc to be reviewed here sheds light on a gambist of the next generation, Louis Caix d'Hevelois, who has not received that much attention. Thanks to my activities as a reviewer, I have a pretty large collection of discs and digital downloads, but only a few are entirely devoted to Caix d'Hervelois. Some of his music may also be included in anthologies. This suggests that there are good reasons to pay more attention to a composer, who marks the end of a long tradition of gamba playing in France.

Caix d'Hervelois was born into a modest and poorly educated family in Ainval, near Amiens. Caix was his mother's name; the Caix family was once part of the higher echelons of society but had been fallen into poverty. However, its origin made Louis change the order of his last names: originally he called himself d'Hervelois de Caix, but once he had settled in Paris he changed his name into Caix d'Hervelois. There he became a pupil of Marais. It was probably due to his uncle Louis de Caix, chaplain in ordinary at the Sainte-Chapelle, that Caix d'Hervelois got access to a viola da gamba. It seems that at first he was not entirely successful in his playing. There are questions with regard to the relationship between him and Marais. Florence Bolton, in her liner-notes, writes: "In an age when it was the done thing to show one's gratitude to one's mentor by means of a dedication or, after his death, one of these magnificent tombeaux (musical memorials) so fashionable since the seventeenth century, strangely enough, this pupil never mentioned his teacher, as if wishing to erase all traces of the connection".

He must have been quite successful, as he published ten collections of suites, which he sold himself, alongside music by others, and was also quite busy at the housing market. However, his social standing seems to have been more important to him than making a name for himself as a viol virtuoso. Even so, his music was well received; the fact that many pieces from his pen were included in anthologies attests to that.

The instrument of his choice was the viola da gamba, but he also published music for two other instruments, which gained popularity in his time: the transverse flute and the pardessus de viole. It needs to be noted that the latter instrument is not identical with the dessus de viole or discant viol, that during the renaissance played the upper part in music for a consort of viols, and that played a solo role in the oeuvre of some composers who had a special liking for the French style, such as Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Melchior Molter. The pardessus de viole was tuned a fourth higher than the discant viol and had a similar range as the violin. It was also treated as a substitute for the violin, in particular for ladies, as Michel Corrette states in his Méthode pour apprendre facilement à jouer du Pardessus de Viole (1748): "Women for example play the pardessus de viole with five strings and will never take up the violin as they are not fond of the position in which it is held: furthermore, their hands are too small to hold it". Caix d'Hervelois published one set of suites for this instrument and two with pieces that can be played on both the pardessus de viole and the transverse flute. From the latter the Suite in G major/minor is taken.

Most pieces for these instruments are arrangements of pieces originally written for the viola da gamba. That is also the case with the Pièces pour la flûte traversière of 1726, from which the Suite in D is taken. Here as in his suites for viola da gamba, Caix d'Hervelois follows the tradition of writing character pieces. This particular suite opens with a prélude which is followed by an allemande and four character pieces. One of them is called Rossignol: imitations of the nightingale were very popular in French baroque music, and one can find them in many suites, including François Couperin's harpsichord oeuvre. The suite ends with La Bagatelle - La Follette, which is played here at the petite flûte.

Couperin is one of the composers who is portrayed by Caix d'Hervelois in a piece taken from the second book of viola da gamba suites. It is preceded by another character piece, tambourin; such pieces also frequently appear in French music of the time. From the same book the Suite in D major/minor is taken, which includes another portrait of a composer: Jean-Baptiste Senaillé, a virtuosic violinist. Florence Bolton concludes: "The young viol player seems to have been more attracted by the world of the harpsichord or the violin [than that of the viola da gamba]". In this piece Caix d'Hervelois mostly explores the higher registers of the viola da gamba.

The pieces for the pardessus de viole and the transverse flute bear witness to the aesthetical developments in Caix d'Hervelois's time. Part of that was also the demise of the theorbo, which was gradually overshadowed by the guitar. That explains why the fifth and last book of viol pieces, which dates from 1748, includes a character piece with the title La Guitare. This also justifies the transcription of La la Fernay for guitar solo in this recording; this piece is taken from the last collection of suites that Caix d'Hervelois published, which dates from 1753 and which is for pardessus de viole or the transverse flute.

This disc is a worthy tribute to a composer whose music deserves to be better known. I don't know whether he ordered his pieces in suites; I assume he did, but this has not withheld the performers to put together two suites from different books (those in G major/minor and in E minor). Musically that is no problem at all: in the composer's time there was usually no strict connection between the movements of a suite. All the pieces included here can stand on their own feet. I am very happy with this disc, as I find Caix d'Hervelois's music compelling, and it is done full justice by La Rêveuse. The performances are really outstanding, and the character pieces come off perfectly. La Couperin is one of my favourites; it is a lovely piece, brilliantly played by Florence Bolton, who also plays the pardessus de viole. I also have nothing but praise for Serge Saitta, playing the transverse flute. They are joined by Emily Audouin (viola da gamba), Benjamin Perrot (theorbo and guitar) and Carsten Lohff (harpsichord).

This disc deserves a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen

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