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"Etienne Richard, Professeur du Roy Soleil"

Fabien Armengaud, harpsichord

rec: Feb 18 - 21, 2020, Amilly (Loiret), Domaine de la Pailleterie
Encelade - ECL 1903 (© 2020) (70'24")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover & track-list
Bauyn Manuscript

[Suite in d minor] Etienne RICHARD (c1621-1669): Prélude; Allemande; Allemande; Courante; Joseph Chabanceau de LA BARRE (1633-1678): Sarabande; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): La Polonnoise
[Suite in a minor] Etienne RICHARD: Prélude; Allemande; Courante; Courante & double; Sarabande; Jacques HARDEL (c1643-1678): Gavotte & Louis COUPERIN (1626-1661): Double [BG 125]; anon (?Etienne RICHARD): Pavane; Luigi ROSSI (c1597-1653): Passacaille Del Seigr. Louigi
[Suite in d minor] Jacques HARDEL: Allemande; Courante; Courante; Courante; Sarabande; Gigue
[Suite in g minor] Etienne RICHARD: Allemande; Courante; Sarabande & Jean-Henry D'ANGLEBERT (1629-1691): Double; Etienne RICHARD: Gigue
[Suite in g minor] Jacques THOMELIN (c1635-1693): Allemande; Etienne RICHARD: Gigue
[Suite in C] Henry DU MONT (1610-1684): Allemande; Jacques HARDEL: Courante; Nicolas (fl 1611-after 1646) or Emery (c1611-after 1647) MONNARD: Courante; Sarabande; René MÉZANGEAU (c1568-1638): Sarabande; Germain PINEL (c1600-1661): Sarabande; Louis COUPERIN Passacaille [BG 27]

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France contains a manuscript of a little more than 350 compositions written in the 1640s and '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 career as a musician was decisively influenced by Chambonnières. The third section contains 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. 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.

The French harpsichordist Fabien Armengaud focused on the third part, and chose as its key composer a certain Etienne Richard. However, it is not established that he is indeed the composer of the music included here. They are attributed to Sieur Richard, but there are three with that name who could theoretically be involved: Etienne's father Pierre or his brother Charles. All three were organists and as most organists also played the harpsichord, it seems possible that either of them is responsible for the composition of the pieces in the Bauyn manuscript. However, Armengaud tends to think that it is indeed Etienne who is the composer. He certainly was a man of stature: as the title of this disc indicates, he was the teacher of the young Louis XIV. An archival document says: "As His Majesty takes unusual pleasure both in hearing the harpsichord played and playing it himself, he has chosen Estienne Richard to teach him how to do so".

The present disc includes the entire output of Etienne Richard, which is not that large: fourteen pieces - preludes and dances - in different keys. Those don't suffice to fill a disc, and that is why Armengaud turned to other pieces from this manuscript. It was common practice to play dances in the form of suites, but as at the time the manuscript was put together, the suite was still not fixed, it is up to the performer to construct a suite according to his own will. Armengaud took pieces by Richard and other composers and ordered them in suites according to their key. As one can see in the track-list, the Suite in a minor, for instance, comprises five pieces by Richard, which are followed by four pieces by other composers. Most of them are relatively unknown, at least to those who don't have a specialistic knowledge of French keyboard music. The two most famous names are Jean-Henry d'Anglebert and Louis Couperin. It is quite interesting that composers sometimes 'commented', as it were, on pieces by colleagues, by adding a double, an embellished version of the original piece. This can be interpreted as a token of appreciatin of the original composer. The fact that D'Anglebert added a double to a sarabande by Richard and Louis Couperin took a gavotte by Jacques Hardel as the subject of embellishments, shows that it is not due to a lack of quality that the oeuvre of Richard and Hardel is little-known, unlike that of Couperin and D'Anglebert.

Among the lesser-known, Hardel is one of the better-known. He was from a family of instrument makers and musicians, and was one of Chambonnières's pupils. He also inherited his teacher's music, as he 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. His complete harpsichord oeuvre has been recorded by Karen Flint.

Henry Du Mont is quite well-known as a composer of sacred music and some pieces for instrumental ensemble, but not as a composer of keyboard works. The Bauyn manuscript includes a number of pieces from his pen; here we get one allemande as part of a Suite in C. Jacques Thomelin was mainly active as an organist; in 1678 he became one of the four organistes du roi. Another organist was Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre, who acted as organist at the Chapelle Royale from 1656 onwards. René Mézangeau was a lutenist, which suggests that his sarabande, included here in the same suite, is an arrangement of a lute piece. The same seems the case with a sarabande by Germain Pinel, who taught Louis XIV the lute. Luigi Rossi, whose music circulated in France and who performed his opera Orfeo in Paris in 1647, is represented with one of his best-known pieces, a passacaglia, originally written for harp. Another transcription is La Polonnoise by Marin Marais, taken from his second book of pieces for viola da gamba. Lastly, two pieces by a composer with the name of Monnard: nothing is known about him; it has been suggested that he may have been a lutenist.

This disc is much more than a display of the oeuvre of the largely forgotten Etienne Richard. We get a very interesting and compelling survey of the rich culture of French harpsichord music. We should not forget that it was only in the mid-17th century that the harpsichord developed into a serious competition to the lute, which for a long time was the most revered instrument in France. The richness of the repertoire performed here, shows why it was increasingly taken seriously and why harpsichordists became part of the royal musical establishment. Fabien Armengaud delivers engaging and stylish performances of the pieces he has selected. He plays a nice instrument, the copy of a harpsichord of the late 17th century, which produces a more pregnant sound that later instruments which are often used in French harpsichord music. It suits the music on the programme very well. The disc ends with one of Louis Couperin's most famous pieces, the superb Passacaille in C, which receives a majestic performance. There is no better way to end this captivating programme.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Fabien Armengaud

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