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Jacques-Martin HOTTETERRE (1674 - 1763): "Complete Chamber Music Vol. 1 - Suites op. 2"

Camerata Köln

rec: April 28 - 30, 2011, Cologne, Deutschlandfunk (Kammermusiksaal)
CPO - 777 790-2 (© 2013) (75'15")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list
Score (edition 1708)

Suite No. 1 in D, op. 2,1b; Suite No. 2 in G, op. 2,2ab; Suite No. 3 in D, op. 2,3c; Suite No. 4 in g minor, op. 2,4a; Suite No. 5 in e minor, op. 2,5d

Source: Pièces pour la flûte traversière, et autres instruments, avec la basse-continue ... livre premier, oeuvre second, 1708, 17152

Michael Schneider, recordera; Karl Kaiser, transverse fluteb; Rainer Zipperling, viola da gamba (solo c); Yasunori Imamura, theorbo, guitar; Sabine Bauer, harpsichord (solo d)

The Hotteterre dynasty played a major role in musical life in France under the ancien régime. The Hotterres had their roots in Normandy where they worked as wood-turners. In the early 17th century they started to make woodwind instruments, at first those which were played at the countryside, such as shawms and bagpipes. Jean Hotteterre (I) (c1610-c1692) was the first to move to Paris where he established a woodwind instrument making workshop. He also became a member of the King's hautbois et musettes de Poitou. It was the beginning of a long-time association of members of the family with the court as their jobs often descended from father to son.

In New Grove the article on the Hotteterre family lists 13 names of family members who were active as woodwind instrument makers, players and composers. The last of them died in 1801 and brought the activities of the Hotteterre workshop to a close. The main composer was Jacques-Martin Hotteterre to whom this disc is devoted. He was the most famous of his family and by the end of his life had attained a high social status. A daughter of his married the organist Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. From 1698 to 1700 he stayed in Rome, and since then he added le Romain to his name. Here the foundation of his interest in Italian music was laid, and that is reflected in his music library which included sonatas by Corelli and Mascitti. Also part of that collection were operas by Lully and Destouches, pieces for viola da gamba by Marais and cantatas by the likes of Campra and Clérambault.

Hotteterre was not only a brilliant player, he also was sought after as a teacher of amateurs among the aristocracy. He published various treatises, the first as his op. 1 in 1707, reprinted seven times until 1741 and published again in around 1765 under a new title. Here he laid down the principles of the main woodwind instruments of the time, the transverse flute, the recorder and the oboe. In 1719 this was followed by a book on the art of writing and playing preludes. In 1737 he published a treatise about the musette.

Six collections of suites and sonatas were printed between 1708 and 1722. These are mostly written for one or two treble instruments and basso continuo. As Hotteterre was a player of the transverse flute himself and this was also the most fashionable woodwind instrument in the early decades of the 18th century it is plausible to assume that he had this instrument in mind when composing his sonatas and suites. However, he explicitly suggested alternative scorings. The collection which is recorded here is an example. It was first printed in 1708 as his op. 2 as (translated) 'Pieces for the transverse flute and other instruments with basso continuo'. It comprised three large suites, opening with a prélude and closing with a gigue. In 1715 a second edition was published, and here the second and third suites were split into two. As a result the two 'new' suites have no prelude. In the present recording which is based on the second edition one of them opens with a prélude from the treatise of 1719 mentioned above, and in the other suite a prelude is improvised.

The scoring in this recording varies according to Hotteterre's suggestions. The Suite No. 1 is played on the transverse flute, the Suite No. 4 - erroneously called 'No. 2' in the tracklist - is played on the recorder, Suite No. 3 on the viola da gamba and No. 2 with a combination of recorder and transverse flute. That suite's second movement (allemande L'Atalante) is partly played as a harpsichord solo. That is in line with Hotteterre's suggestion of playing these suites as harpsichord pieces. This is also followed in the Suite No. 5 which is entirely performed as a harpsichord suite.

The allemande L'Atalante just mentioned is a character piece. In his liner-notes Karl Kaiser explains: "Atalanta, a beautiful king's daughter, was willing to marry only the suitor who could run faster than she herself could. But she beat all the suitors, and they had to pay for their defeat with their lives. Accordingly, this piece consisting of running scales forms a musical picture: the upper voice - that of the woman - is always one measure ahead of the basso continuo - the man." However, it is not always possible to identify the exact meaning of a title. Some movements are descriptions of natural phenomena, others are portrayals of characters from society or the world of the arts. The majority of the movements in these suites are character pieces. This was to become very fashionable and soon made its entrance in harpsichord suites as well, for instance the Ordres of François Couperin.

It is interesting to hear these suites in various scorings. At the same time I can imagine that lovers of the flute would like to hear them on their favourite instrument, and that is the way they are mostly played. They should look for the two discs which have been released by Naxos, with the French flautist Philippe Allain-Dupré. Also interesting is a disc with various pieces by Hotteterre, recorded on recorder by Michael Form. In his liner notes he underlines the emotional and expressive element of French music. Although a public display of human emotions was felt to be unacceptable in those days, the use of dissonances and rhetorical motifs to create a plaintive mood, for instance, shows that this music is more than just about pleasing the ear. That could be emphasized by contrasts in tempo, and there is some documentary evidence of the tempi used in those days. Those aspects seem not to have been incorporated into these performances by Camerata Köln.

The members of this ensemble deliver fine and tasteful interpretations and I have certainly enjoyed them. However, they could have been less restrained, and stronger contrasts in tempi - and probably also stronger dynamic shading - would have made them more compelling. The different scorings not only show the various ways of performance of these suites, but also bring some variety. I am not sure whether I would like to hear all these suites on the transverse flute if they were to be played as they are here.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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