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"Le coeur & l'oreille - Manuscript Bauyn"

Giulia Nuti, harpsichord

rec: Oct 21 - 24, 2015, Corcelles (Neuchâtel) (CH), Temple
Arcana - A 434 (© 2017) (70'59")
Liner-notes: E/F/I
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacques CHAMPION DE CHAMBONNIÈRES (1601/02-1672): Suite in C; Suite in F; Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661): Prélude in F; Suite in g minor; Tombeau de Mr. de Blancrocher; Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): Sarabande grave en forme de gaillarde; Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667): Toccata in a minor; Jacques HARDEL (1643/50-1678): Suite in d minor; Rene MESANGEAU (?-1638): Sarabande; Germain PINEL (?-1661): Sarabande

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France contains a manuscript of a little more than 350 compositions written in the 1640s an '50s, mostly for keyboard. It is named 'Manuscrit Bauyn', after André Bauyn de Bersan, its first owner. The largest part contains French music, by Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (1601/02-1672) who may be considered the father of the French harpsichord school, and Louis Couperin, whose carreer as a musician was decisively influenced by Chambonnières. The third section contains 15 pieces by French, German, Italian and English composers. Thus the manuscript sheds an interesting light on the connection between French and in particular Italian keyboard music. Froberger was German, of course, but through his training by Frescobaldi his compositions were strongly influenced by the Italian style.

It is also interesting that this manuscript has probably been put together around 1700, whereas the music dates from about fifty years earlier. During the baroque period music of such an age was mostly only studied, not performed. From that perspective one wonders with what purpose the pieces included in the manuscript were collected.

Giulia Nuti has largely confined herself to the French part of the collection, and focused on the two most prominent names: Chambonnières and Louis Couperin. Jacques Champion de Chambonnières was born in a musical family of harpsichordists and organists. His grandfather Thomas Champion was appointed first organist of the royal chapel and chamber in 1578. His son, Jacques Champion, was organist and valet de chambre of Henri III. Jacques junior took the name 'Chambonnières' from his mother's father, sieur de Chambonnières. This seems to have been part of his attempts to improve his social status. At some time he called himself baron.

Chambonnières was a child prodigy: at the age of 10 he received the reversion of his father's position at the court of Louis XIII as organist, valet de chambre and joueur d'espinette. He played at court and started to compose, but he also danced, first before Louis XIII, later on with Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Lully. Interesting is that he was probably the first in France to organise paying concerts, as he established the Assemblée des honnestes curieux in 1641. Twice a week public performances took place, apparently with two singers, a viol player and Chambonnières at the harpsichord.

Louis Couperin was born in Chaumes-en-Brie and moved to Paris in 1650/51 with the help of Chambonnières. He worked as organist of the Church of Saint Gervais in Paris and as musician at the court. He quickly became one of the most prominent Parisian musicians, establishing himself as a harpsichordist, organist, and player of the dessus de viole, but his career was cut short by his early death at the age of thirty-five. Shortly after his arrival in Paris, he became acquainted with Johann Jakob Froberger, and through him with the Italian style, especially the works of Girolamo Frescobaldi.

The programme includes two préludes non mesurés, a genre which is especially connected to Couperin. It appears in two different styles. One is the tombeau-allemande style, which is dominated by freedom of rhythm and a slow tempo from start to finish. The Prélude in F is a specimen of it. The other style is connected to the toccata; the Prélude, which opens the Suite in g minor, is an example: it consists of three sections, the second of which is fugal. Here we see the influence of the Italian style and of Froberger, who is represented with the Toccata in a minor, which stylistically is pretty close to Couperin's prélude.

The third composer represented here is Jacques Hardel. The year of his birth is not known; it was probably around 1643. He was from a family of instrument makers and musicians. His father was a master lute maker and acted also as a harpsichord teacher. Jacques must have played several instruments as an inventory of his belongings includes viols, lutes and other instruments. He also inherited Chambonnières' music who apparently considered him his best pupil; Hardel also took care of him during his final illness and wrote down his last pieces from dictation. He was in the service of Philippe, brother of Louis XIV and known as 'Monsieur'. He also played for the Sun King himself. His main activities were in the field of teaching, though. One of his pupils was a certain Gautier, to whom he left his and Chambonnières' music. From the inventory of his possessions one may conclude that he was quite wealthy.

An important aspect of the performance of French harpsichord music is the addition of ornaments. Giulia Nuti raises this issue in her liner-notes, and points out that it is a rather complicated matter. She quotes Monsieur de Saint Lambert in his treatise Les principes du clavecin (1702): "[The student] is extremely free in the choice of agrémens. In the pieces he studies he may also play them in places where they are not marked; remove those that are [there] if he finds that they do not suit the piece, and add others to his liking." She then refers to remarks by Pierre Le Gallois, who described the variety and extent of Chambonnières own ornamentation in his performances, which were such, that no performance of a particular piece was exactly like the previous one. However, Chambonnières was also the first since about a century to publish music, which was especially written for the harpsichord. In 1670 two books with harpsichord pieces were printed. One of the reasons was that "shoddy copies, full of mistakes" were circulating. By publicising them Chambonnières could be sure that his works were offered to the public in versions which he approved of. That seems to limit the freedom of the interpreter. Ms Nuti observes that the Bauyn manuscript was put together "at a time when composers were beginning to voice their concerns about how their work was performed and disseminated."

I have not checked to what extent she has added ornamentation. She mentions that bon goût and "the immediate response of the harpsichord while playing" have been her main guides, which seems a sensible approach. The latter brings us to the harpsichord. Ms Nuti plays a historical instrument, built by Louis Denis in 1658. It is one of the earliest surviving French double-manual harpsichords that is in playable condition. "[One] of the principal characteristics that distinguish it from other instruments, is the sonority: the sound remains consistently full, present and rich for an astonishingly long time." It has inspired her to take rather quiet tempi, even in the faster pieces.

She makes a difference between the pieces by Chambonnières and Couperin, referring to Le Gallois again, who described them thus: "Their two styles of playing had different characteristics, and it could be said that one touched the heart and the other touched the ear. (...) They pleased, but pleased differently, because of the varied beauties of their styles of playing".

That comes well off here. I have been really impressed by Giulia Nuti's playing, and also by the harpsichord. It is a magnificent instrument, very different from the harpsichords - mostly later instruments or Ruckers harpsichords, that have been the subject of a ravalement - which are so often used in French harpsichord music. Ms Nuti explores the characteristics of this instrument to the full, and creates nice contrasts between the pieces and within pieces, also through variety in the registration. The allemande and the sarabande from Chambonnières Suite in F are played with great subtlety, also in the application of notes inégales. The chaconne which closes the suite receives a brillant performance. The gigue and the gavotte which end Hardel's Suite in d minor are played with much aplomb. The latter is followed by a double by Louis Couperin. Overall the playing of the pieces by the latter is more extraverted. However, Ms Nuti does not exaggerate the differences. Two pieces in the programme are arrangements of lute pieces, referring to a major source of inspiration of the French clavecinistes.

This is an outstanding disc: an interesting programme of first-rate music, which receives a superb interpretation on a splendid instrument.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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Giulia Nuti

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