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Jean-François DANDRIEU (1682 - 1738): "Pièces de Caractère"

Marouan Mankar-Bennis, harpsichord

rec: July 9 - 12, 2017, Alligny-en-Moran (Nièvre, F), Chaux estate
Encelade - ECL 1702 (© 2015) (4.59'40")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Prologue] Prélude [1]; La Précieuse [4]; La Constante [4]; La Gracieuse [4]; Le Badin [4]
[Act 1] La Magicienne [3]; La Pastorale (Les Bergers Rustiques; Les Bergers Héroïques; Le Bal Champêtre) [3]; La Naturèle [4]
[Act 2] Les Tendres Reproches [3]; Le Concert des Oiseaux [2]
[Act 3] La Plaintive [2]; La Musette - Double de la Musette [2]; Les Caractères de la Guerre [2]
[Act 4] Le Concert des Muses [3]; Suite du Concert des Muses [3]
[Act 5] La Lully [3]; La Corelli - Double de la Corelli [3]; La Lyre d'Orphée [3]; La Figurée [3]; Le Tympanon [2]

Sources: [1] Livre de clavecin, 1705; [2] Livre de pièces de clavecin, contenant plusieurs divertissements dont les principaux sont Les caractères de la guerre, ceux de la chasse et La fête de vilage, 1724; [3] 2e livre de pièces de clavecin, 1728; [4] 3ème livre de pièces de clavecin, 1734

Jean-François Dandrieu was one of the main composers of his time in France, but today his music is not very well known. He is mostly associated with a typical French genre, the Noël, an organ arrangement of a popular Christmas song. It is mainly his Noëls which appear on disc. When I searched the internet for a complete recording of his harpsichord works, I learned that such a recording does not exist. Only extracts from his Pièces de clavecin are available. That is also what the present disc offers.

Dandrieu was born in Paris and received his first music lessons from his uncle, Pierre, organist of St Barthélemy, and probably also from Jean-Baptiste Moreau. From 1705 until his death he acted as organist of St Merry, a post earlier held by the famous Nicolas Lebègue. In the last years of his life he also succeeded to the position of his uncle at St Barthélemy.

According to the German theorist Marpurg Dandrieu was called "the German organist", probably because of his preference for counterpoint, which was associated with the German style. That comes to the fore in his two collections of trio sonatas, which were printed in 1705 and 1710 respectively. The organ works also show his mastery of counterpoint; he often makes use of fugues. At the same time his organ suites are quite modern in that they include pieces which show the influence of Lully's operas. Some pieces are transcriptions of movements from his trio sonatas.

Dandrieu published five books with harpsichord pieces, but the third and fourth were printed as the first and second book, in 1724 and 1728 respectively. This can be explained by the idiomatic change: whereas in the early books Dandrieu linked up with the tradition of writing suites of dances, the later books reflect the modern fashion of composing character pieces. The most obvious example of this fashion is François Couperin. Whereas in the early books not a single piece has character title, in the third and fourth books all the pieces are titled. The third book of 1734 then shows a return to the past: although all the pieces have titles and there are no references to dances, many of them are in fact dances - and in the track-list of the present disc these are added - and a number of pieces are recycled from the early books.

Marouan Mankar-Bennis made a selection from Dandrieu's oeuvre, and focuses mainly on the first and second books. In addition he plays five pieces from the third book and the programme opens with a prélude from the very first book, called here Livre de jeunesse, of 1705. How do you choose pieces from such a pretty large corpus of pièces de clavecin? Mankar-Bennis decided to group them in the way of an opera, consisting of a prologue and five acts.

The prologue in French opera - for instance by Lully - was traditionally a tribute to the monarch. Here it is a tribute to the lute: this instrument and its style - known as style brisé - was incorporated in the harpsichord idiom in the second half of the 17th century. Mankar-Bennis therefore plays the right hand in all the pieces in the prologue with the buff stop, as so often wrongly called the 'lute stop' in the English translation of the liner-notes. The four titled pieces are in fact dances: courante, sarabande, chaconne and menuet.

In the first act we are in the countryside. The first four pieces are taken from the Suite No. 3 of the second book. After an overture, called La Magicienne, we hear three pieces from a cycle of four, called La Pastorale. Le Bal Champêtre includes repeated figures in the left hand, to the effect of a drone, so often associated with music from the countryside. This act ends with a passacaille from the third book. In the second act we stay in the countryside, but now the birds and their singing are in the centre. After Les tendres reproches from the second book we hear three pieces from the second suite, which are included in the first book under the title Le concert des oiseaux (the concert of the birds). They are entitled Le ramage (warble), Les amours and L'hymen (marriage). Mankar-Bennis effectively plays these pieces with the 4-foot stop of the harpsichord.

In the third act things become more serious: in the centre is a depiction of a battle, opening with the attack (La charge) and closing with the victory (La victoire with a double). In between are Les cris (the cries of the wounded) and Les plaintes (the laments for the dead). The troublesome part of the battle is already predicted in the opening piece of this act: La plaintive. All these pieces are from the first book.

The fourth act refers to classical antiquity, and reflects the baroque ideals of Arcadia. It is about the Muses: the two pieces are taken from the second suite in the second book. The first is Le concert des muses and the second Suite du concert des muses, which appropriately is a passacaille. This was a fixed part of any opera, and here Dandrieu mingles it with what was to become one of the most popular forms in the 18th century: the rondeau.

In antique mythology the Muses were the goddesses of the arts. Therefore it is a small step to Act 5, which is devoted to music, and more in particular the two composers who were generally considered the main representatives of the French and the Italian styles respectively: Lully and Corelli. This act opens with La Lully, appropriately in the form of an opera overture, the genre with which he is so intricably connected. It is followed by La Corelli which is dominated by syncopations. As this act is devoted to music, Orpheus cannot be omitted, as this mythological character is the symbol of the power of music (La Lyre d'Orphée). Also inevitable is another piece based on a basso ostinato, this time a chaconne.

Marouan Mankar-Bannis plays to different instruments. In the prologue and the acts 1 to 3 he uses a copy of a Flemish instrument of the mid-17th century, which has a strong sound and a sharp attack, which is well suited to the character of the pieces played in that part of the programme. The remaining pieces are performed on a French harpsichord, constructed after models from the mid-18th century. Its smoother sound fits the pieces related to music in the last two acts. The tuning is based on French temperaments from Dandrieu's time, but has been slightly adapted here and there to bring out the features of a particular piece.

Dandrieu's music is of high quality and Mankar-Bannis is an outstanding advocate of it. He deserves much praise for his original approach to Dandrieu's oeuvre and the way he presents the programme. The result is a most compelling recital of pieces which are stylistically coherent, but at the same time show much variety. If you like French harpsichord music, don't miss this fine disc. And let us hope that some day the complete keyboard works by Dandrieu will be available on disc. That is long overdue.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

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