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"Le Clavecin Mythologique"

Anne Marie Dragosits, harpsichord

rec: Sept 2 - 3, 2016, Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe
Encelade - ECL 1801 (© 2018) (73'35")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): Les Sourdines d'Armide; Les songes agréables d'Atys; Passacaille d'Armide; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): 1er Ordre in g minor (Les Silvains) [1]; 23e Ordre in F (Les Satires) [3]; 25e Ordre (Les Ombres Errantes in c minor) [3]; Jacques DUPHLY (1715-1789): Les Grâces [6]; Médée [6]; Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745), arr Jean-Baptiste FORQUERAY (1699-1782): 5e Suite in c minor (Jupiter) [5]; Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): L'Entretien des Muses [2]; Les Cyclopes [2]; Joseph Nicolas Pancrace ROYER (1705-1755): Allemande [4]; La Marche des Scythes [4]; La Sensible [4]; Le Pouvoir de l'Amoir (L'Imagination, arr Anne Marie Dragosits)

Sources: [1] François Couperin, Premier Livre de pièces de clavecin, 1713; [2] Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pièces de clavecin, 1724; [3] François Couperin, Quatrième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1730; [4] Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer, Premier Livre de Pièces pour Clavecin, 1746; [5] Antoine/Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, Pièces de viole composées par Mr Forqueray le père mises en pièces de clavecin, 1747; [6] Jacques Duphly, Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756/R

One of the features of the history of French harpsichord music is the shift from dances to character pieces. In the oeuvre of Louis Couperin one finds only a handful of such pieces. That is very different in the four books of harpsichord pieces by his nephew François. The first includes still a considerable number of dances, but in the fourth these are completely overshadowed by the character pieces.

The titles of such pieces are often a mystery to a modern performer or listener. To their frustration the composer didn't bother to reveal their meaning: "I have always had a subject when composing these pieces; different occasions have provided it. Thus the titles relate to ideas that have occurred to me, and I shall be forgiven if I do not account for them". Taking this into consideration, one may wonder how important it is for a performer to understand these titles. And because they were mostly not explained, interpreters have their own ideas about their meaning, and feel free to speculate about it. The present recording is not entirely free of that, but the titles of the pieces Anne Marie Dragosits has selected often give a clue as to what they are about. As the title of this disc indicates, they can be connected to classical mythology.

These are partly the result of another development in French harpsichord music: the transcription of pieces from operas. Jean-Henry d'Anglebert was the first, who did so: in his oeuvre we find a number of pieces which are transcriptions of dances from operas by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Later Joseph Nicolas Pancrace Royer transcribed pieces from his own opera Zaïde. This inspired Dragosits to transcribe two pieces from Le pouvoir de l'amour, Royer's ballet héroïque of 1743. It is the opening of this recording. In Rameau's oeuvre one also finds harpsichord pieces of a theatrical character. However, these mostly came first: Rameau later arranged them in order to include them into his operas.

In the pieces included here we meet several characters, individually or as a group, which play a major role in classical mythology. The latter category is represented by the muses (Rameau, L'Entretien des muses), the Satyrs (François Couperin, Les Satires), the Graces (Duphy, Les Graces), the Cyclopes (Rameau, Les Cyclopes.) and the Silvani (forest gods) (Couperin, Les Silvains). Some of the most famous characters, which also figure prominently in operas and chamber cantatas, are Medea (Duphly) and Armida (d'Anglebert). The programme ends with a portrait of the god of the sky and king of the gods, Jupiter.

Duphly's Médée is played at high speed, illustrating the sorceress's escape through the winds on the chariot. Les Graces includes long trills, according to Dragosits an illustration of "three dainty graces spinning in elegant pirouettes". The heaviness and sluggishness of Royer's Allemande illustrates the march and the wailing of the victims being led to their execution; it is the composer's own transcription of the Marche pour le sacrifice from Le pouvoir de l'amour.

Lully wrote an opera about Atys. Les songes agréable d'Atys illustrates Atys' sweet dreams, heard here in a transcription by d'Anglebert. A passacaille. was an indispensible part of any opera, and here we hear d'Anglebert's transcription of the passacaille from Lully's opera Armide, the sorceress described in Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata. The importance of Jupiter is nicely depicted by Antoine Forqueray. He conceived it as a piece for viola da gamba; here we hear the transcription by his son Jean-Baptiste.

Anne Marie Dragosits effectively explores the character of every single piece. She takes profit from the instrument she plays. It was built by Pascal Taskin in 1787, and has some particular features. One of them is a register, called peau de buffle, which Taskin introduced in 1768. It has plectra of soft buffalo leather, which results in a sound a contemporary described as satiny and pleasant. This register was inspired by the growing popularity of the fortepiano and should allow the player to create dynamic differences. Another device of this particular instrument is the knee-pedal mechanism, which gives the possibility of changing registers while playing and even creating crescendi and diminuendi. Dragosits uses the peau de buffle nicely, for instance in Duphly's Les Grâces. In François Couperin's Les Ombres Errantes the meandering of the shades comes perfectly off through the use of the 4' register.

The pieces included here are all pretty well known. However, the angle from which Dragosits approaches the repertoire and which inspired her selection of pieces is quite original. It sheds light on the importance of mythology in the music of the baroque era, even in instrumental music, and the way composers were able to depict the features of mythological characters. Dragosits' playing and the magnificent historical instrument are additional arguments to investigate this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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Anne Marie Dragosits

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