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"Les Maîtres du Motet - Sébastien de Brossard, Pierre Bouteiller"

Les Arts Florissants
Dir: Paul Agnew

rec: July 2016, Lessay (F), Abbaye Sainte-Trinité
Harmonia mundi - HAF8905300 (© 2018) (76'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Bouteiller
Scores Brossard

Pierre BOUTEILLER (c1655-c1717): Missa pro defunctis cum 5 voc.adef; Sébastien DE BROSSARD (1655-1730): Ave verum corpus à 4 voix (SdB. 10); Miserere mei Deus à voix seule, basse continue et faux-bourdon alterné à 3 voix (SdB. 53)bc; Stabat mater à 5 voix et basse continue (SdB. 8)acdef; André RAISON (c1650-1719): Messe du premier ton (Kyrie)g

Maud Gnidzaz, Élodie Fonnard (soloa), Cécile Granger, Juliette Perret (solob), Rachel Redmond (soloc), dessus; Bruno Le Levreur, contre-ténor; Nicholas Scott (solod), Marcio Soares Holanda, haute-contre; Benjamin Alunni (soloe), Thibaut Lenaerts, Nicolas Maire, Jean-Yves Ravoux, taille; Justin Bonnet, Christophe Gautier, Marduk Serrano López, basse-taille; Geoffroy Buffière (solof), Laurent Collobert, Yannis François, Julien Neyer, basse
Juliette Guignard, viola da gamba; Florian Carré, organ (solog)

Unlike Italy and Germany, France was a centralized state during the 17th and 18th centuries. This had a clear effect on music life: most composers of any reputation who are still known, were active in Paris or connected to the court of Versailles. That does not mean, though, that nothing happened in other parts of the country. In recent years more attention has been given to music life outside Paris. The present disc includes music by two composers, who are not that well known.

That is to say, Sébastien de Brossard is certainly not an unknown quantity. In fact, he has become quite famous, but not because of his compositions. We know him first and foremost as a collector of music. We owe many compositions to his collector's mania, including pieces which show the influence of the Italian style. In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Brossard liked and admired Italian music.

This part of his biography has overshadowed his activities as a composer. He was born in Dompierre, in the northern part of France, attended the Jesuit school in Caen and then studied there philosophy and theology at the university. In music he was self-taught, especially at the lute, for which he composed some pieces. In 1675 he took minor orders and in 1687 he was appointed vicar at Strasbourg Cathedral. Soon afterwards he became maître de chapelle. In the field of secular music, he performed operas and ballets with the Académie de Musique he had founded in 1689. At the same time he composed two books with motets and six books with secular airs. He also started to build up his own music library. In 1698 he moved to Meaux, where he succeeded Pierre Tabart as maître de chapelle at the cathedral. In 1715 he resigned in favour of his former pupil Jean Cavignon.

His activities as a collector may have been to no interest to us, if in his old age he had not come up with the brilliant idea of offering his entire library to the Bibliothèque Royale; the offer was accepted, and the invaluable collection is now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Its value is enhanced by the fact that Brossard had painstakingly catalogued his library, and added information about the music, which is unavailable from other sources. However, according to New Grove, his own music was never played, and only in the late 20th century this situation started to change. Even so, performances and recordings of his oeuvre are rather rare. The three pieces included here prove that he was a composer of considerable quality, and that his music deserves to be better known.

The Stabat mater was completed in March 1702 and is scored for five voices and bc. It is divided into sections for different scorings: some are for the full ensemble, others for one to five solo voices. It is an expressive work which clearly shows Brossard's Italian leanings. In the opening section he uses harmony for expressive reasons and that is also the case in 'Quis est homo': in the last line the word "dolentem" is set to strong dissonants. In the next section, 'Pro peccatis', the word "flagellis" is vividly depicted.

The disc opens with Brossard's setting of Psalm 50 (51), Miserere mei Deus, which is scored for dessus (soprano) and basso continuo. It is an alternatim setting; the even verses have to be sung in faux-bourdon. Jean Duron, in his liner-notes, states that this piece, probably dating from 1711, is scored for "women's voices". Obviously, that is sheer nonsense; this piece was to be sung by boys. Here the solo part is divided among two of the sopranos. I can't figure out the reason for that; I would have preferred Juliette Perret as the only soloist, as Rachel Redmond uses a bit too much vibrato. The faux-bourdon is sung by the women of the ensemble.

The selection of this particular piece was inspired by the recording of the Missa pro defunctis by Pierre Bouteiller. Christophe Gautier, who sings the intonations, writes in the booklet that the Miserere was part of funeral services. "As the body was being brought out, the priest would lead the march back, solemnly intoning the antiphon Exultabunt Domino ossa humiliata. A few solo choristers would launch into Psalm 50 (Miserere), followed by the full choir singing in alternation. For the re-entry into the church, the antiphon Exultabunt would be repeated and the Mass itself would begin. In the reconstruction proposed on this recording, Brossard's setting of the Miserere is framed by two pieces for solo organ - instrumental settings of the Kyrie by André Raison - one for the journey to the home of the deceased, the other for re-entering the church." The Miserere is preceded and followed by the first line of the antiphon. This attempt to some kind of reconstruction is not really convincing. Firstly, it is regrettable that we only get the first line of the antiphon instead of the whole piece. Secondly, the Miserere and the Requiem are separated by Brossard's Stabat mater, and as a result the whole idea of connecting them and give some idea of a funeral service, is nullified.

Bouteiller is the unknown quantity on this disc, although his Missa pro defunctis has been recorded before. The first recording dates from 2003 and was released in 2005 by Atma; here the five parts are divided among two singers (Suzie LeBlanc and Stephan Van Dyck) and three viols (Les Voix Humaines). Hervé Niquet delivered a larger-scale performance in 2010.

There isn't much known about Pierre Bouteiller, not even the exact years of his birth and death. He was born around 1655 and he is known to have been director of music at the cathedral of Troyes in Champagne in 1687. Seven years later he held the same post in Châlons-sur-Marne. After a short stay back in Troyes, he went to Paris in 1698, where he established himself as a player of the viola da gamba and other instruments. In 1704 a Te Deum by Bouteiller was performed in Paris, but this work has disappeared. It seems he didn't compose anything until his death in about 1717.

It is not known how much Bouteiller has composed. What has come down to us is the Missa pro defunctis recorded here and 13 petits motets, all of which were composed during his time in Troyes. The main source of Bouteiller's music is Brossard's library. He met Bouteiller in Châlons-sur-Marne in 1695 and offered him a copy of his first book of motets. In return Bouteiller "gave me this handwritten score, which I have always held onto carefully, considering it one of the best that I have".

The fact that Bouteiller composed a Requiem mass is in itself remarkable. Not many masses have been written in France, and stylistically these were mostly rather old-fashioned, composed in polyphonic style and modelled after Palestrina. This Requiem Mass is no exception, but there are some traces of baroque text expression, for example in the Offertory, where Bouteiller makes use of dissonances and a descending phrase to illustrate the passage "(deliver the souls) from the pains of hell and the bottomless pit". Expressive is also the Elevation 'Pie Jesu'.

Despite the two previous recordings, this new performance is a worthy addition to the catalogue, as the line-up is different from that of the other two. I already mentioned the line-up in the Atma recording. Niquet's ensemble is larger, but he opted for a performance with only women's voices, assuming that this mass may have been sung in a women's convent. The transposition of the lower voices results in a different texture, which is sometimes a bit strange. I was not entirely convinced by the result, and from that angle I am happy with what is on offer here. The singing is first-class and the ensemble is not marred by vibrato. The expressive features are convincingly conveyed.

The disc ends with a four-part motet by Brossard: Ave verum corpus is in pure stile antico, and entirely homophonic. It is sung a capella here, which seems right. It is a very beautiful and moving piece, which should be in the repertoire of choirs, for instance as an alternative to Mozart's setting.

Despite some issues mentioned above, this is a highly recommendable disc, which includes some very fine pieces which deserve to be better known. Les Arts Florissants's performances present them in full glory.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Les Arts Florissants

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