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Fastes de la Grande Écurie
Syntagma Amici, Giourdina
rec. 2021, Conservatoire of Caen, France
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere RICERCAR RIC439 
Wind instruments have always played an important role at royal and aristocratic courts. Some of them were almost exclusively played there and not a few of them were specifically connected with the army. An example is the fife, which - mostly together with drums - are still part of military bands. This disc is the result of the collaboration of two ensembles which specialize in music of the Grand Siècle. "Their performances go far beyond simple concerts and revive the splendours of the court with fireworks, serenades, carousels, musketeer combats and other elements of the Royal ballets" (booklet).
The Grande Écurie originally comprised four departments: Trompettes; Joüeurs de Violon, Hautbois, Saqueboutes, Cornets (also known as Grands Hautbois); Hautbois, Musettes de Poitou and Joüeurs de Fifres et Tambours. In 1651 a fifth ensemble was added by Louis XIV, the Cromornes & Trompettes marines. The addition can be explained by the fact that these were recently invented instruments. The cromorne cannot be identified with the crumhorn, which was in use in the renaissance. The range of parts which have been preserved and are described as scored for cromorne suggest that it was a kind of bassoon. Documents from various courts of the time refer to "new cromornes" which can serve as confirmation that these instrument have nothing to do with the crumhorn.
Especially noteworthy is the trompette marine. It is defined in New Grove as a "bowed monochord equipped with a vibrating bridge in common use from the 15th century until the mid-18th". It was used as a kind of imitation of the trumpet. The meaning of the adjective "marine" is not known. It was a frequently used instrument in many countries across Europe from about 1650 to 1725.
The fife was an established part of the Grande Écurie since the early 16th century. It is a small cylindrical transverse flute, made from a single piece of wood and with six fingerholes. Fifes were mostly used together with drums, and associated with infantry. During the ancien régime they were played during ceremonies and accompanied the King on his travels. At the end of the 17th century they were largely replaced by oboes. Only the Swiss guards still used them. These Cent Suisses had acted as the King's bodyguards since 1497. Fifes were also played by the Gardes Suisses which Louis XIII had added to the Gardes du Roy; they had the duty to protect the King's residences.
The repertoire which was played by the instruments of the Grande Écurie consists mostly of small pieces, which are often arrangements, for instance of instrumental pieces from Lully's operas. The programme of this disc covers a period of about a century. A large part of the music played by the winds of the Grande Écurie was never written down and handed over from one player to the next orally. Some of the music may also have been improvised. It is largely due to the members of the Philidor family that a substantial part of the repertoire has been preserved. An important role was played by Anne Danican, known as l'aîné, who he was the librarian of the King and responsible for a number of collections of music from which pieces of this programme have been taken. It is not always clear who the composer is; it is quite possible he has written or at least arranged a number of pieces himself.
The pieces performed here sometimes appear on discs devoted to French music of the 17th century, but seldom a complete disc is devoted to it. That is understandable as some pieces are very short. Bruit de Guerre by André Danicam Philidor, scored for two trumpets, bass trumpet and timpani, takes just 22 seconds. In such cases the next items follow almost without interruption, as a kind of suite. That is a good way to present them; it would be a shame if they were not included, as a picture of the activities of the Grande Écurie would not be complete without them.
As far as the composers are concerned, only one of them is a largely unknown quantity: Charles Desmazures was educated as an organist and was probably a pupil of Nicolas Lebègue. He worked as organist at Marseille Cathedral. The two pieces included here are in four parts, and are taken from his only printed collection of instrumental music, the Pièces de simphonie of 1702. They are scored for flutes, oboes or violin, and here they are played on recorders and on oboes respectively.
The booklet includes an essay on the musical landscape at and around the court in 17th-century France by Thomas Leconte and information on the various instruments by Jérôme Lejeune. These are essential to understand what we are hearing here. It is noteworthy, for instance, that the ensemble known as Grands Hautbois, did not only consist of what we call oboes. "The twelve grands hautbois of the Écurie du Roi consisted of two oboes (dessus), two cornets (also dessus), two oboe tailles (the ranges of these parts were, however, identical, so they were played by the same instruments in F), two sackbuts, and two basses de hautbois or bassoons." The oboes also changed with time: in the mid-17th century it was modified to match the sound of the violin. Other instruments also changed, which was partly motivated by Louis XIV's wish that they should participate in performances of soft music within the royal chamber. It is the Philidor family that is closely connected with the modifications of these and other instruments, alongside the Hotteterre family.
The two ensembles who can be heard here, comprise specialists on historical wind instruments. They know the instruments in their different shapes and their respective features inside out. A thorough knowledge of the repertoire also allows them to select the most appropriate instruments for the various pieces, according to their role in courtly life and ceremonies. The result is a fascinating picture of the splendour of the French court, which did not fail to make an impression on everyone who heard this music and their performers, at home and abroad. Apart from the repertoire, this disc is also important as a sampling of the instruments in use during the 17th century. Some combinations of instruments are quite exciting. The playing is excellent; I can't imagine a better demonstration of the activities of the Grande Écurie than is delivered here.
Concert des Grand[s] hautbois pour les Chevaliers fait[s] par Henry III
Pavane La Petitte Guaire fait[e] pour les Cornets en 1601 Lorenzo Allegri (c1573-1648)
Primo Ballo della Notte d'Amore anon
Pavane faite pour le mariage de Henry le Grand en 1600 Michael Praetorius (1571-1621)
Bourée d'Avignon & La Bourrée Eustache Du Caurroy (1549-1609)
Dixiesme Fantasie, sur Requiem aeternam, à 4 anon
Pavane pour les hautbois fait[e] au sacre du Roy le 17e Octobre 1610
Pavane du mariage du Roy [Louis XIII]
Ballet à Cheval fait pour le grand Carouselle fait à la Place Royal[e] pour le mariage de Louis XIII Joué par les Grand[s] hautbois Luigi Rossi
Les Pleurs d'Orfée ayant perdu sa femme Louis Couperin (1626-1661)
Fantaisie [à 5] sur le jeu des hautbois - Fantaisie sur le mesme jeu 'Couperin 1654' anon
Autre Suitte faite pour Mr le Compte Darcours par Mr Degrinis pour les Cromornes, l'an 1660 François Roberday (1624-1680)
8e Caprice André Danican Philidor (c1652-1730)
Bruit de Guerre
Marche Liégeoise (attr) anon
Marche du Régiment du Prince Charles de Brandebourg & Marche Allemande André Danican Philidor (attr)
La Retraitte Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Carrousel de Monseigneur en 1686 André Danican Philidor (attr)
Marche de timbales Jean-Baptiste Lully
Les Folies d'Espagne Charles Desmazures (1669-1736)
Pièces de Symphonie à quatre parties André Danican Philidor (attr)
La Marche Royalle Jean-Baptiste Lully
Marche de Fusilliez André Danican Philidor
Pièce à double trompette et de différent ton et le le gros basson Jean-Baptiste Lully
Marche du regiments du Roy André Danican Philidor
Marche Royalle à 3 dessus de hautbois pour la marche françoise
Menuet pour les Trompettes
Marche des pompes funèbres pour les grandes cérémonies Charles Desmezures
Chaconne à 4