musica Dei donum
"... pour passer la mélancolie"
Andreas Staier, harpsichord
rec: Feb 2012, Berlin, Teldex Studio
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902143 (© 2013) (74'52")
Cover & track-list
Jean-Henry D'ANGLBERT (1629-1691):
Chaconne Rondeau in D ;
Fugue grave pour l'Orgue ;
Prélude in d minor ;
Tombeau de M. de Chambonnières ;
Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749):
Suite in c minor ;
Louis COUPERIN (c1626-1661):
Suite in F (BG 12,67,68,72,80,81);
Johann Caspar Ferdinand FISCHER (1656-1746):
Ricercar pro Tempore Quadragesima super Initium Cantilenae 'Da Jesus an dem Creutze stund' ;
Uranie, suite in d minor (toccata, passacaglia) ;
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667):
Suite VI in C (FbWV 612) (Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Mstà. di Ferdinando IV, Ré de' Romani etc) ;
Suite XXX in a minor (FbWV 630);
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704):
Passacaglia in g minor 
 Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Musicalischer Parnassus, [n.d.];
 Johann Jacob Froberger, Libro quarto di toccate, ricercari, capricci, allemande, gigue, courante, sarabande, 1656;
 Jean-Henry d'Anglebert, Pièces de clavecin ... livre premier, 1689;
 Georg Muffat, Apparatus musico-organisticus, 1690;
 Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Ariadne musica neo-organoedum, op. 4, 1702;
 Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, 1704
The idea of four different temperaments resulting into different human personalities has its roots in Greek antiquity and was incorporated into his medical theories by Hippocrates (460 - 370 BC). Since then it has played a part in Western culture and not the least in music. This disc refers to one of the temperaments, melancholy. It developed into a cult in renaissance England, and found its most eloquent expression in the Lachrimae or Seven Teares by John Dowland.
There is a certain dichotomy about the connection between melancholy and music. On the one hand music was considered a way of expressing this state of mind. On the other hand, it was also thought to be able to cure this disease. That also seems to be reflected in the title of this disc which is taken from the superscription of the first movement from the Suite XXX in a minor by Froberger which opens this disc. It refers to him crossing the North Sea during which he was stripped of all his possessions by pirates. "He arrived in London wearing nothing but a seaman's shirt. When he went to a concert, his poor clothing led to his being bidden to blow the organ bellows. He did so, but on one occasion forgot to discharge his duties 'ex melancholia' (on account of his melancholy) and was thereupon insulted by the organist and kicked out of the building. He then composed the Plainte in question to recount his experience", Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann writes in the liner-notes. However, the expression "passer la mélancholie" suggests that it was rather written as a cure, to drive the melancholy away.
Melancholy is sometimes specifically referred to, like here, but that is not always the case. In his personal notes to this recording Andreas Staier connects melancholy with the motif of vanitas which is a frequent topic in baroque art and expressed in numerous paintings. It is this - rather than melancholy in the strict sense of the word - which is the thread of the programme of this disc. This explains the inclusion of tombeaus: the Tombeau de M. de Blancrocher which closes the Suite in F by Louis Couperin and the Tombeau de M. de Chambonnières which is taken from the Pièces de clavecin of 1689 by Jean-Henry d'Anglebert. The Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Mstà. di Ferdinando IV falls into the same category. The characteristics of such pieces "take this music close to the memento mori in its style of writing". He then extends this by including chaconnes and passacailles: "the ostinato conception of the frequent chaconnes and passacaglias may readily be understood as a symbol of ineluctable fatality".
This just shows that the whole concept of this disc is quite personal and that the connection between the music chosen for the programme and the concept of melancholy is to a large extent a matter of interpretation. The danger is that it is extended in such a way that little is left of the strict meaning of melancholy as it was understood at the time.
That said, what we have here is a wonderful collection of splendid music, which includes some of the finest pieces from the harpsichord repertoire of the 17th century. Some of these pieces are quite well-known, and that includes the pieces by Froberger and Louis Couperin. Georg Muffat's Passacaglia in g minor is also quite often performed and recorded. The oeuvre of Jean-Henry d'Anglebert and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault is far less common. Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer is the relatively least-known composer on the programme, whose oeuvre is unjustly ignored.
Andreas Staier gives outstanding performances. He has clearly given the interpretation much thought, and he thanks his colleague Skip Sempé for sharing his insights into this repertoire. It shows the thorough preparation of this project which has led into one of the finest harpsichord discs which has recently crossed my path. Staier plays a splendid instrument, a reconstructed and restored harpsichord by an anonymous builder from the late 17th century which underwent a ravalement in 1748. Its brilliant sound suits the music which Staier has chosen perfectly. The recording is excellent.
This is a disc to treasure. No harpsichord lover should miss it.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)