Music in Versailles
Louis XIV (1638-1715) never had reason to complain about his musical education. He was only a child when he put together his first band; at about the age of ten he was taught the lute and other string instruments and the harpsichord soon followed. Louis also loved to dance as often and much as he could; it is said his legs could dance a regal branle and courante.
As an absolute monarch, he did not have to skimp on anything, even music. Of course, there was a degree of ostentation attached to his office. It was essential to receive ambassadors in a suitable manner, it was inconceivable to take the salute without a festive musical accompaniment and nor did he venture out onto hunting grounds or battlefields without drums and trumpets. However, Louis's interest in music transcended the strict demands of protocol. Everyday life – in as much as a Sun King could enjoy it – was imbued with music. When he arose (lever) and went to bed (coucher), in the royal chapel, at meal times, on boat trips or strolls, musicians were always at the ready everywhere. At its peak, Versailles had no less than 200 musicians on its staff.
Following French tradition, the musical menagerie of the King was organised down to the tiniest details. There was the Musique de la Grande Écurie, with its drums, trumpets, oboes, cornets, bagpipes and other wind instruments that thrive in the open air. There was the Musique de la Chapelle Royale that offered employment to a handful of singers, violinists, flute and oboe players along with other instrumentalists. In addition, the French court was entertained with orchestral and dance music by the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (also known as the Grande Bande) and the Petits Violons du Roi (in other words, the Petite Bande).
Only the very best musicians ascended to the top of the ladder: they were admitted to the Musique de la Chambre, the elite corps of soloists who performed chamber music in the royal suite almost every evening. Three of the four composers whose music can be heard on this CD were among them. Marin Marais (1656-1728) was appointed in 1679 as Ordinaire de la chambre du Roi pour la viole and was employed as royal gamba player until he retired in 1725. Around 1700, harpsichord player François Couperin (1668-1733) joined the King's court musicians and a few years later, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (ca. 1680-1761) joined with recorder, transverse flute and oboe. Such a profitable position was not available for violinist and harpsichord player Charles Dieupart. That may be why he departed for London, where he died in 1740 in poverty.
Italy versus France
A musician employed by the King was allowed to arrange his own succession. At the French court, this privilege led to the rise of various dynasties of musicians, who accumulated craftsmanship, artistry and capital within their own circle. The two most important families who left their mark on the Grand Siècle are the Couperins and the Hotteterres.
The Couperin dynasty ensured a constant stream of first-class harpsichord players. After Louis Couperin became organist at the Saint-Gervais in 1653, this post stayed in the family for no less than 173 years. At the age of 18, François followed in the footsteps of uncle Louis and his own father Charles, at the start of a career in which he would grow to become France's most important composer of instrumental music. At a tender age, Couperin was already a fervent admirer of the Italian style of music and of Arcangelo Corelli in particular. That was hardly a safe bet at that time: there was plenty of mud slinging about the pros and cons of the French and Italian ways of composing.
According to the priest and writer François Raguenet, it was no wonder that Italians thought French music to be boring, shallow, insipid and even stupid. He was of the opinion that the French aimed for gentle, easy, flowing evergreens. Raguenet penned his essay in 1702 and accused his compatriots of lacking adventure. ‘They flatter, tickle and caress the ear, but always comply with an exact measure.’ He found the Italians much more appealing. They moved at whim between major and minor and dared to try unexpected dissonants and reckless tunes. ‘The Italian ignores all rules and that is what makes his music so compelling’, Raguenet wrote pugnaciously.
Jean Laurent Le Cerf de la Viéville retorted by defending the French regime of balance and measure against what he regarded as the ‘strained, incoherent and unnatural taste’ of the Italians. While many melodies from the French opera pleasantly haunt one's mind, Le Cerf suggested that an Italian tune would not stick ‘even when you have heard it ten times’.
François Couperin chose the best of both worlds. When the first Italian sonatas found their way to Paris in around 1690, he was instantly captivated. ‘They encouraged me to compose a couple too. I do not think that I have violated the works of Lully, or of my predecessors.’ Couperin aptly described his blend of French and Italian elements as ‘les goûts-réünis’. That is, with good reason, the title of the ten Nouveaux Concerts he published in 1724 as a sequel to his four successful Concerts Royaux.
The Neuvième Concert from Les Goûts-réünis has the Italian subtitle Ritratto dell’Amore, portrait of love, while the parts have been given French characterisations. The mood is unmistakably French, with a profusion of miniature ornaments in melodies that still reveal the elegant regularity of the French court dance. Here and there Italian influences are apparent, such as the hectic bass line in Le Je-ne-scay-quoy and the occasionally ‘walking’ or ‘running’, Corellian bass in La Noble Fierté. However Couperin never expressed a preference for the use of certain instruments in Les Goûts-réünis. Violin, oboe, transverse flute, recorder – a tasteful approach could always count on his blessing.
The Normandy family descended from Jacques Hotteterre were perfect masters of the design and construction of wooden wind instruments. The Hotteterres transformed shawm and dulcian to oboe and bassoon while they also tinker successfully with the transverse flute and the recorder. In a few publications, Jacques Hotteterre offers a glimpse of his craft. For instance, in his often-reprinted Principes de la flûte traversière (1707), he explains the principles of playing the transverse flute after which he also looks at the recorder and oboe.
While Hotteterre’s nickname was ‘le Romain’ (probably as the results of a lengthy stay in Italy), one can scarcely conceive of music more French than his. In many an avertissement (foreword) to his suites, Hotteterre provides a description of subtle decorations, as common in his work as curls in the wig of Louis XIV. The Suitte in E-minor finds its origins in the Deuxième livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière (1715), but Hotteterre states emphatically that he thoroughly enjoys hearing the works on ‘autres instruments’.
The French tradition of playing the viola da gamba was given gold trimmings by Marin Marais. He must have been a prodigy and his teacher Sainte-Colombe sent him packing after only six months because he had nothing more to teach him. Marais wrote more than 550 pieces for the ‘basse de viole’; an instrument that sang in his hands with unparalleled refinement of expression. In 1723 he published La gamme, in which he granted a solo role to the violin for a change. This is Marais’ investigation of the Italian style, for instance in the obsessive base line of La Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont de Paris (probably evoking the sound of bells), or in the joyous Très vivement uit de Sonate à la Marésienne
(Sonata in the style of Marais). In the foreword to La gamme, Marais left room for performance on instruments other than the violin, just as he had no objection to other string, wind and keyboard instruments cutting a dash with his works for gamba.
Charles Dieupart was just as generous with his pieces: the more players, the higher the sales. He was still young when he ventured to move from Paris to London, where he emerged in around 1704 at the Drury Lane Theatre as a harpsichord player. Dieupart was a welcome guest of the rich and famous as violin and harpsichord teacher, but it looks as if his career gradually sank into oblivion. As a certain point he even considered travelling to India in the wake of a physician who wanted to use music as an anaesthetic for bladder operations… Things went downhill for Dieupart. According to the 18th-century music historian John Hawkins, he gradually degenerated and spent the latter years of his life playing the violin in obscure pubs, where he could at least make the Mediterranean sun of Corelli shine.
Guido van Oorschot
Translation: Martin Cleaver
MARIJKE MIESSEN is a highly respected virtuoso on the recorder. She studied at the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam, graduating ‘cum laude’ in 1977. She then embarked on an intensive career including concert appearances worldwide. She has given numerous masterclasses, for instance in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Barcelona, and has been a guest professor at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. From 1978 till 1993 she was teaching at the Sweelinck Conservatoire. Among her recording projects, her world première recordings of Telemann's 12 Sonatas from 1734 for the ETCETERA label are worthy of special mention, along with her performances of works by the Dutch composers Padbrué, Van Eyck and Van Noordt, for BFO.
ANNER BYLSMA studied at the Royal Conservatoire in his home city of The Hague under Professor Carel van Leeuwen Boomkamp and was awarded the Prix d'Excellence on graduating. In 1959 he won first prize in the Pablo Casals Competition in Mexico. At that time was already first solo cellist in the Netherlands Opera Orchestra, Amsterdam, going on to occupy the same position in the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam from 1962 to 1968. Bylsma then focused on his activities as soloist and performing in chamber ensembles. His programme includes the standard cello repertoire, but also seldom performed works from the 17th to 19th centuries. He is especially interested in the performance practice of ancient music on historical instruments; in this field, he is in great demand to accompany such artists as Frans Brüggen and Gustav Leonhardt. He has won several international recording industry awards.
PIETER WISPELWEY received his early training from Dicky Boeke and Anner Bylsma in Amsterdam, followed by studying with Paul Katz in the U.S.A. and William Pleeth in the U.K. He won first prize in the Elisabeth Everts Biennial (1985), received the Netherlands Music Prize (1992) and was awarded the Belgian Press Prize for Musician of the Year. He is in demand as a soloist, both with orchestras and for chamber music. Six of his recordings have won international awards. Peter Wispelwey is also recognised for his mastery of the modern repertoire.
BOB VAN ASPEREN, harpsichord player, organist, conductor and ancient-music specialist studied at the School of Gustav Leonhardt and is now in great demand as a connoisseur of ancient music. As a professor at the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam and as a teacher at many Summer Academies in Germany, Holland, Italy, France, the U.K. and Canada he teaches students from all over the world. His extensive knowledge of harpsichord and clavichord literature is reflected in his concert programmes which include the whole 17th- and 18th-century repertoires. Besides giving many concerts in Holland, Bob van Asperen tours all over Europe, the United States, Russia and Australia. Several of his recordings on EMI, Teldec, RCA and Harmonia Mundi have been given awards including the Edison (1979), the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis (1986) and the Cecilia Prize (Belgium).