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Charles DIEUPART (after 1667 - c1740): Suites for harpsichord or melody instrument and bc (1701)

[I] "Six Suites de Clavecin"
Fernando Miguel Jalôto, harpsichord
rec: April 22 - 24, 2012, Basse-Bodeux (B), Église de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption
Brilliant Classics - 95026 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (1.41'50")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Suite No. 1 in A; Suite No. 2 in D; Suite No. 3 in b minor; Suite No. 4 in e minor; Suite No. 5 in F; Suite No. 6 in f minor

[II] "Les Suittes"
Corina Marti, recorder; Tore Eketorp, quinton; Soma Salat-Zakariás, viola da gamba; Ziv Braha, theorbo; Yizhar Karshon, harpsichord
rec: Sept 2013, Basel-Binningen, Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche
Carpe Diem - CD-16303 (© 2014) (57'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet (ISSUU)

Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661): Prélude; François DIEUPART: Suite No. 1; Suite No. 2; Suite No. 3; Suite No. 6 in f minor
N.B. The keys for the suites Nos. 1 to 3 are omitted as they could have been transposed; the booklet doesn't include any information about that.


In the early decades of the 18th century London was one of Europe's main cultural centres. It attracted many performing musicians and composers from across the continent who settled there for a shorter or longer period. Among them were Italians (Geminiani, Bononcini), Germans (Handel, Pepusch) and Dutch (De Fesch, Hellendaal). In this company we find the composer who is the subject of the present set of discs: Charles Dieupart. Little is known about his early years, and that includes the place and date of his birth. There is a little confusion about his Christian name: English sources refer to him as Charles whereas an autograph letter in French is signed F. Dieupart, the F referring to François.

The first sign of his musical activities is the collection of six suites which was published in 1701 in Amsterdam in two different editions. One was for harpsichord solo, the other for transverse flute, violin and bc. Both were produced at the instigation of Dieupart himself. This was certainly inspired by the wish to increase sales. They were dedicated to his English pupil, Countess Elisabeth of Sandwich, who resided in France at the end of the 17th century, probably for reasons of health. She could have been also the one who suggested Dieupartshould move to London.

Here he seems to have settled in 1703 at the latest as in February of that year he participated in a performance of sonatas by Corelli. His name would ever be connected to that of Corelli: the last documented performance dates from 1724 when he was referred to as "Capt Dupar, Scholar to the late celebrated Signor Corelli". However, for most of his years in London he actively participated in theatrical performances. He closely cooperated with the Italian-born cellist, composer and librettist Nicolo Francesco Haym, especially in performances in the Drury Lane Theatre. Here he played continuo in Italian operas, such as Bononcini's Il trionfo di Camilla. He also composed theatre music, for instance for a pasticcio which was put together by the French-born librettist Peter Anthony Motteux. Dieupart was also one of the founders of the famous Academy of Ancient Music, together with the likes of Geminiani and Croft.

The six suites are unique in several ways. Dieupart was the first French composer to publish his harpsichord pieces under the title of suites. Such editions were usually printed as pièces de clavecin, and later Couperin presented them as ordres. Also notable is that every suite opens with an ouverture rather than a prélude. This is a clear reference to the operas by Jean-Baptiste Lully which were still very much the standard at the time Dieupart composed his suites. Whereas in French collections of harpsichord pieces the performer could pick and choose the pieces as he liked or the pieces were ordered according to key with a different number of movements, Dieupart's suites follow a structured pattern. In every suite the overture is followed by six dances: allemande, courante, sarabande, gavotte, menuet and gigue. Only the Suite No. 2 in D derives from this as the menuet is replaced by a passepied. This kind of suites was more common in Germany than in France, and there is general agreement that Bach was influenced by Dieupart's suites when he composed several collections of his own. It is known that he copied Dieupart's suites when he was employed at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar. Bach was not the only one who was interested in them. Copies of the set have been preserved across the continent.

These suites show considerable contrasts between the various movements which is underlined by Fernando Miguel Jalôto. That especially concerns the tempi. The allemandes are quite slow, slower than I am used to hear in performances of harpsichord suites. This seems to be in line with how Jalôto analyses these suites: "Even in the rare vivacious movements, such as the Gigues and the reprises of the Ouvertures, Dieupart's suites are always tender and delicate in expressionm, with eloquent cantabile melodies, sophisticated ornamentation and a very sure command of harmony". He also refers to the overtures as "attempts to translate orchestral forms to a keyboard instrument". This is expressed here by coupling the manuals which creates a kind of 'orchestral sound'. The overture from the Suite No. 1 in A includes some notable harmonic progressions.

I probably would have preferred slightly faster tempi in the allemandes but Jalôto plays them very well. Despite the pretty slow tempi he manages to keep the musical flow alive. The allemandes don't come to a standstill and don't fall apart. The same goes for the sarabandes where the slow tempi are more obvious. One should not get the impression that Jalôto only plays slowly; pieces such as gavotte and gigue get the vivacious tempi they need. He uses an interesting instrument: a copy of a harpsichord from around 1690 - not much earlier than Dieupart composed his suites. It has a strong and penetrating sound, especially in the discant, and therefore it is probably advisable not to turn your volume control too high.

This is definitely a most interesting set. These suites were probably not available on disc - in 1998 Huguette Grémy-Chauliac recorded these suites for the French label Pierre Verany, but I don't know if that was easily accessible and whether it is still available. She needed just one disc, probably due to faster tempi and maybe to more modesty in the application of repeats. For his interpretation Jalôto refers to a French treatise of 1702 which says that the performer should give a piece the tempo "which satisfies his own taste" rather than the tempo which the composer tried to indicate by the time signature. Whether that view is universally applicable is an open question, but the result in this particular case is satisfying.

The popularity of Dieupart's suites explains that John Walsh published a third edition in London in 1705, this time for a single melody instrument and bc. This is the version which has been used by Corina Marti and her colleagues for their recording of three suites from this set. In his liner-notes Szymon Paczkowski mentions the "flute" as the intended instrument; in this case this probably means the recorder as this instrument was more common at the time in England than the relatively new transverse flute. The Suite VI is played as a harpsichord solo; Yizhar Karshon turns here to the original keyboard edition. The Suite II is the only one played here on the recorder alone. In the Suites I and III we also hear an instrument called here the quinton. This is another name for the pardessus de viole, a high descant viol. In New Grove we read the following: "It appeared about 1730, when viols with violin-like features began to be made in France in response to the prestige of Italian violin music."

This gives reason to question the decision to include the quinton in this recording. First of all, the instrument seems not to have existed at the time Dieupart published his suites. Secondly, it seems to have been a typically French invention and it is highly questionable whether it was known in England at all. Recorder and quinton play either in turn or together (colla voce). Despite their different characters they blend well.

From a historical perspective I have strong reservations towards the scoring of two of the four suites. But I have no reservations in regard to the level of the performances. These are top-notch artists who deliver compelling performances. In these instrumental versions Dieupart's suites turn out to be just as good and entertaining as the versions for harpsichord. Karshon's performance of the Suite VI is in no way inferior to Jalôto's.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Fernando Miguel Jalôto
Yizhar Karshon
Corina Marti

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