Monday, August 16, 2010

D'Anglebert: Complete Harpsichord Works (Christophe Rousset) (English Version)

The Chinese version ended up being too long, so I had to split the entry into two different versions.

Jean-Henry D'Anglebert (1635-1691) was one of the most important French keyboard composers of the second half of the 17th century.  His collection of 4 suites published in 1689, two years before his death, represents some of the finest harpsichord works written before Francois Couperin and Rameau.  Actually, I would still rank them among the best along Couperin and Rameau's works.

D'Anglebert's father was a wealthy shoemaker, which probably provided him the financial means to receive a formal music education.  Nothing about his early musical training is known, nor how he ended up in Paris.  When he was married in 1659, he was already a well-established Parisian bourgeois.  His first employment was probably the organist at the Jacobins Church in the rue Saint-Honoré in 1660.  Later that same year, he was able to purchase the charge of ordinaire de la musique pour le clavecin to Duke of Orléans, Philippe I, brother of Louis XIV, succeeding Henri Dumont, a post he would hold until 1668.   However, in 1662, he would buy the reversion of the post of ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin, the king's harpsichordist.  Chambonnieres, reportedly was disgraced in court for refusing to play the continuo part to Lully's orchestra.  While Louis Couperin in honor of his teacher, refused to take the position, it was D'Anglebert who agreed.

In this arrangement, D'Anglebert would perform the actual harpsichordist duties, while Chambonnieres would keep the annual salary.  Not a bad deal by any means for Chambonnieres.  While it is not confirmed that D'Anglebert was Chambonnieres's student, the fact that he composed a tombeau in honor of him highly suggests that he either studied with him or held him in very high regard.  Unlike Chambonnieres, however, D'Anglebert was on very good terms with Lully.  Lully was the godfather of D'Anglebert's son, and D'Anglebert also transcribed many of Lully's orchestral pieces into  harpsichord solo works, which is the first French keyboard composer to have done this.

D'Anglebert only published one set of works during his lifetime, which includes a set of four keyboard suites.  There are other two autograph manuscript collections that contain his other know works.   The set published in 1689 was dedicated to Marie Anne de Bourbon, the later legitimized daughter of Louis XIV, a competent amateur harpsichordist herself who later studied with Francois Couperin.  Besides being a set of high quality music, the engraving is one of the most delicately and beautifully done.  It is probably also why many copies of his music did survive.

D'Anglebert's table of ornaments are also one of the most complex ones to be published, where only Francois Couperin managed to outdo him.  Rameau and Bach all use his table of ornaments as a reference for creating their own.  J.S. Bach was known to make a copy of D'Anglebert's table of ornaments for sure. 

D'Anglebert's Table of Ornaments

D'Anglebert was also known to make modifications on how to mark the unmeasured preludes.  While Louis Couperin was first to implement unmeasured preludes on the harpsichord, it quickly became apparent that there was difficulty in trying to notate an explicit music line.  While Nicolas Lebègue first came up with a modification of his own, it was confusing and not universally adopted.  It was D'Anglebert's modification, with the use of quavers to represent a coherent musical line and bar-lines to represent a brief pause in a longer phrase, became the accepted one and subsequently picked up by Marchand, Clerambault, and the great Rameau.

D'Anglebert's Prelude in G Major

D'Anglebert's pieces can claim many firsts in the history of French harpsichord composition.  Besides the aforementioned as being the first French keyboard composer to transcribe known orchestral works onto the harpsichord, the arrangement of one of Lully's overtures also makes D'Anglebert to write the first French Overture for the harpsichords.  Furthermore, his Folies d'Espagne, variations on La Folia, is also the first cycle of keyboard variations.  This would be followed by Gaspard Le Roux's Sarabande in 12 couplets, a piece which I have recently had the honor of finally finished playing.  

D'Anglebert's works are in general, more developed than those of Chambonnieres, which tend to be much shorter.  His pieces are also more inventive and daring rhythmically and harmonically.  Needless to say, his ornamentations are much more complex and sophisticated.  The sheer density of his ornaments is sometimes the sole reason in being unable to play through the music unimpeded.  Despite developing a great appreciation for French keyboard music lately, playing D'Anglebert's music personally has been something I have not yet endeavored into yet.  

D'Anglebert Allemande in G Major
ridiculous amount of ornamentations per bar

D'Anglebert's keyboard music is arguably one of the most exquisite French harpsichord music ever written.  French Baroque harpsichord music has a very peculiar idiom that is to me, a very acquired taste.  I must be adamant that the first time I listened to these works, I did not think much of them.  However, after each listening, they really started to grow on me, much like how the aftertaste of a good wine kicks in.

Compounding to this is the fact that whether you may come to like these pieces depends greatly on the performer's interpretation.  I have long noticed Rousset's set of D'Anglebert, only that it has seemingly been out of print for a while.  For what may have been the most random thing ever, when I was back in Taiwan earlier this winter, I happened to notice this set sitting on the shelves of a record store.  From the plastic wrap around it, it seemed as if it has been laying there for a long time.  I was overjoyed due to the fact that there was this set high on my "to-get-list," just sitting there. 

Rousset's recordings of the well-known and less well-known French Baroque keyboard works have garnered much praise.  I own his Francois Couperin and Forqueray sets, and while I have not really gone through the entire Couperin in detail (it's 12 CDs, mind you), the Forqueray set is very enjoyable.  This D'Anglebert set is just as commendable.  Rousset's grasp and knowledge of the French keyboard works is immaculate.  His ability to play even the hardest ornamentations with ease and treat them with the delicate touch is impressive.  More importantly, Rousset's playing really allows the music to flow smoothly, without some quirky hesitant pauses other performers may do that can stop the flow of music altogether.  Under Rousset, the music is one coherent unit, with a continuity in sound that is much sought after quality in French keyboard music.   

One reviewer on Amazon noticed that Rousset may be sometimes blitzing through some of the shorter pieces, speculating that he probably was trying really hard to fit all the music under 160 minutes.  This recording includes the other manuscript pieces and many transcriptions of Lully's pieces, a definite bonus.  However, tempo-wise, compared to Skip Sempe for example, Rousset is slight slower (who often isn't?) but does not lose the energy.  I have also listened to clips of Elizabeth Farr's recordings on Naxos, and while I am sure she has done thorough research and justified performance gestures, to me it does sound a bit too learned.  Although I have started to warm up to her playing a bit, I still much prefer Rousset's exuberance.   

Chinese version


John Hendron said...

I commend you on a very thorough post on D'Angelbert and his music.

Anonymous said...

beautiful blog!!! congratulations and thankyou for this geat service.

Deadlockcp said...

Thanks for the comments!

Mike Winters said...

Hi Jack,

I was hoping you could clarify something:

"Rameau and Bach all use his table of ornaments as a reference for creating their own. J.S. Bach was known to make a copy of D'Anglebert's table of ornaments for sure."

Is there a reference for this? In what sense was d'Anglebert's ornamentations a 'reference.' Where the copied outright or expanded?

Post a Comment