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Pierre BOUTEILLER (c1655 - c1717): "De vanitate mundi"

Suzie LeBlanc, sopranoa; Stephan Van Dyck, tenorb; Les Voix Humaines; Sylvain Bergeron, theorbo; Alexander Weimann, organ

rec: May 16 - 18, 2003, La Prairie (Québec), Église de la Nativité
ATMA - ACD2 2259 (© 2005) (54'55")

Consideratio de vanitate mundia; Missa pro defunctis for 5 voices and bcab; O felix et dilecte convivaa; O fidelis et dilecte commensalisb; O salutaris hostiab; Tantum ergob

Susie Napper, Margaret Little, Mélisande Corriveau, viola da gamba

More than any country in Europe France was a centralised state in the 17th and 18th centuries. Paris was the capital and not only the political centre of the country, but also a centre of science and culture. This doesn't imply that outside Paris and the royal court of Versailles nothing of any importance happened. It is only since relatively recently that musicians are paying attention to the music of composers who worked elsewhere in France and hardly, if ever, stayed in Paris or composed for the court. Their music isn't always first-rate, but sometimes new names appear who turn out to be the authors of excellent music. It seems to me Pierre Bouteiller is one of them.

There isn't much known about Pierre Bouteiller, not even the exact years of his birth and death. He was born around 1655 and he is known to have been director of music at the cathedral of Troyes in Champagne in 1687. Seven years later he held the same post in Châlons-sur-Marne. After a short stay back in Troyes he went to Paris in 1698, where he established himself as a player of the viola da gamba and other instruments. In 1704 a Te Deum by Bouteiller was performed in Paris, but this work has disappeared. It seems he didn't compose anything until his death in about 1717.

It is not known how much Bouteiller has composed. What has come down to us is the Missa pro defunctis recorded here and 13 petits motets, all of which were composed during his time in Troyes. As in other cases the main source of Bouteiller's music is the large collection of musical manuscripts which was brought together by the composer Sébastien de Brossard, to whom we also thank our knowledge about Italian music performed in France in the 17th century. He had met Bouteiller in Châlons-sur-Marne in 1695 and offered him a copy of his first book of motets. In return Bouteiller "gave me this handwritten score, which I have always held onto carefully, considering it one of the best that I have".

The main work on this disc is a Requiem. Not many masses have been written in France, and stylistically these were mostly rather old-fashioned, composed in polyphonic style and modelled after Palestrina. This Requiem Mass is no exception, but there are some traces of baroque text expression, for example in the Offertory, where Bouteiller makes use of dissonances and a descending phrase to illustrate the passage "(deliver the souls) from the pains of hell and the bottomless pit". Expressive is also the Elevation 'Pie Jesu'. In particular in smaller churches it wasn't uncommon to perform a mass with whatever voices and instruments were available. Here we get a small-scale performance, in which the five parts are divided between the two voices and three viols. The problem of this kind of performance is that the two singers seem to be soloists, even though voices and viols blend rather well. I would like to hear this work with a small vocal ensemble some day. The music is definitely worth it.

It is perhaps due to the fact that Bouteiller was a professional viola da gamba player that the 'petits motets' contain parts for viols. It was very common in France to compose such motets for a small number of voices with basso continuo and one or two additional instruments. But the instrumental parts were usually written in the treble range, to be played on violins, flutes or oboes. Writing such parts for bass instruments as Bouteiller did was very rare.

The motets recorded here are mostly related to the Eucharist, as the titles show. The longest of the five motets, Consideratio de vanitate mundi, is a little different. It is an incitement to realise what is really important: "Remember, remember, man, that you are mortal and shall to dust return. Flee, flee the vanity of the world, flee pleasure, flee blindness". It is here that we find most text expression, for example when it is explained what remains to man of all the worldly pleasures. Bouteiller uses strong dissonances on the words "nisi dolor, nisi luctus et maestitia" (except pain, except sadness and affliction). The next line, "what has become of laughter, jest, song, praise and vain glory", is depicted by a lively rhythm.

If unknown music is performed the 'consumer' has to be convinced that this music is really worth listening to. The key to convince them is an excellent performance, and that is exactly what the music of Bouteiller gets here. The interpretation by the two singers is ideal: they both have beautiful voices with the kind of flexibility this music needs, and they handle the texts - sung here in French pronunciation - with great sensitivity. The expressive and dynamic playing of the viols is a joy to listen to.

I am glad the music of Bouteiller has been rediscovered and recorded. Wouldn't it be a good idea to record the remaining motets by this French master?

Johan van Veen (© 2008)

Relevant links:

Les Voix Humaines

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