D’ANGLEBERT – Pièces de clavecin

The music heard on this disk comes from one of the most handsomely engraved volumes of keyboard music to be produced during the seventeenth century. Published in Paris by the composer in 1689, this exquisite book measures some 19 by 21.5 cm and contains seven pages of introductory material followed by 128 pages of music. A careful examination of its contents reveals much about their composer and the world for which his pieces were conceived.

The title page reads: Pieces for harpsichord, composed by Jean-Henry d’Anglebert, ‘Ordinaire’ for the King’s chamber music, with the manner of playing them, [including] various Chaconnes, Overtures and other Airs by Monsieur de Lully arranged for that instrument, several fugues for the organ, and the Principles of Accompaniment. Book I. With royal privilege. [Published in] Paris available from the Author, Rue St. Honoré near [the church of] St. Roch.

As an ‘Ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du Roy’, Jean-Henry D’Anglebert (b. Bar-le-Duc, 1629?; d. Paris, 1691) was a member of an elite group of musicians in constant service to Louis XIV to provide music for the court at Versailles. This group, which included some eight solo singers, a harpsichordist, a theorbist, two lutenists, three gambists, four flautists, and four violinists, performed for social events such as dinners, balls, and also for the king’s ‘coucher’ or bedtime ceremony. Over the course of Louis’ reign (one of History’s longest –70 years from 1643 to 1715), the most celebrated musicians of the seventeenth century figured among its members: composer Michel-Richard de Lalande, gambist Marin Marais, flutist Jacques Hotteterre, harpsichordists Jacques Champion de Chambonnières and François Couperin, and, towering above all others, the ‘incomparable’ composer of opera, Jean-Baptiste Lully.

Contemporary journals, novels and letters provide glimpses of the social settings for music at Versailles. A letter from 1682 describes a “jour d’appartement”: Three evenings a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6 to 10 pm, several rooms adjoining the King’s chambers were set up for activities such as dancing, gaming, eating and drinking, and listening to music. Those in attendance were invited to drift from room to room, partaking of all the offerings; those in the music rooms were treated to both instrumental and vocal music, including un-staged opera excerpts, airs, cantatas, suites, trios and solo pieces. As a member of the King’s chamber music, D’Anglebert would have been present during these evenings both as a harpsichord soloist and as a continuo player. Music also played an important role in the elaborate ceremony that surrounded the king’s bedtime. Lully contributed a sizable body of instrumental music for these ‘couchers du roy’; the menuet, ‘La Jeune Iris’, is D’Anglebert’s transcription of one of these pieces.

Versailles was also the setting for many productions (many of them premiers) of Lully’s operas and ballets, including Le Triomphe de l’Amour (1680-81), Atys (1682), Phaeton (1683), and Roland (1685). The musicians of the chamber were joined with les Petits Violons, a group of some 21 strings under Lully’s direction, and other court musicians for these productions. Here too D’Anglebert was active as a continuo player. He undoubtedly drew on his experience as an accompanist in formulating the brief but informative, “Principes d’accompagnement”, found at the end of the 1689 print. He also transcribed several instrumental movements from these works.

D’Anglebert’s predecessor at Versailles had been Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (c.1601-1672). Chambonnières had been named successor to his father’s post as early as 1611, gradually taking over all of its duties by 1644. He was celebrated both in France and abroad for the beauty and lightness of his touch, the variety of his ornamentation, and the grace of his compositions. He was the first in France to publish harpsichord music, releasing two volumes of his pieces in 1670, towards the end of his life. D’Anglebert, along with another famous harpsichordist, Louis Couperin (c.1626-1661), likely studied with Chambonnières. Certain evidence of their collaboration is to be found in the Oldham Manuscript, compiled in the 1650′s, containing autograph works by all three composers.

Chambonnières appears to have been a difficult personality, whose aristocratic pretensions cost him dearly in both money and esteem. By 1662 he had sold his post to D’Anglebert, because (according to the gambist Jean Rousseau) he could not accompany from a figured bass, a serious liability under Lully’s regime. Whatever the reason, D’Anglebert took over the post and held it until his death. His own son, Jean-Baptiste Henry, inherited the post by right, but owing to the latter’s poor eyesight, it was François Couperin who actually performed his duties.

Given the important position music occupied in the social and political life of Versailles, it is not surprising that members of the nobility cultivated their own musical skills, and assembled their own musical forces. By 1668, D’Anglebert had become harpsichordist to the Duc d’Orléans, (the King’s brother, familiarly known as ‘Monsieur’). He later entered the service of the Dauphin’s wife, Marie-Anne de Bavière, after her marriage in 1680.

Teaching was also an important part of D’Anglebert’s life. D’Anglebert’s print is dedicated to his student, Marie-Anne, Princesse de Conty (1666-1739), who was the King’s legitimated daughter by his first mistress, Louise de La Vallière. The dedication tells us that nearly all the pieces were composed for her, and her qualities of execution brought D’Anglebert new inspiration. The princess must have been an avid pupil, for she continued with François Couperin after D’Anglebert’s death in 1691.

Starting with Chambonnières’ print of 1670, almost all French composers included tables of ornaments in their printed editions, to illustrate ‘the manner of playing.’ D’Anglebert included a very thorough table of ornaments, perhaps the most complete of all. His symbols and types of ornaments provide both melodic embellishments and elaborate chordal figurations. D’Anglebert’s system, like all French ornament systems, is combinatorial: a small number of simple gestures can be combined in a multitude of ways to produce a very rich set of ornamental figures. Since D’Anglebert uses exactly the same set of ornaments in one of his figured-bass examples, his entire oeuvre is a rich source of ideas for accompaniment in the French style. His table served as the basis for many such later tables. St-Lambert makes frequent reference to it in his influential ‘Les principes du clavecin’ of 1702; and J.S. Bach used it as the basis for the ornament table he provided for Wilhelm Friedemann’s Clavier-Büchlein in 1720.

The edition contains fifty seven pieces grouped into four long suites. Selections from three of these suites are heard in this recording. Three of the four suites start with an unmeasured prelude. These introductory movements, without a predetermined form or metre, hearken back to the lutenists’ tradition of improvising short preludes to test the tuning of the instrument while establishing the key of the pieces to follow. There are also echoes of the toccatas of Frescobaldi and the early seventeenth-century Italians, stimulated by Johann Jakob Froberger’s visit to Paris during the 1650′s. Early unmeasured preludes, such as the wonderful preludes of Louis Couperin, are written entirely in whole notes, using slurs to indicate groupings and phrasings. D’Anglebert’s printed preludes use a mixture of whole notes for structural tones and smaller note values for melodic and ornamental figures, making these preludes somewhat easier to decode than Couperin’s. Later composers used a similar notation for their preludes, likely derived from D’Anglebert.

We can detect something of D’Anglebert’s compositional process in these preludes: small sections of both the G minor and G major preludes are quoted verbatim in the D minor prelude, suggesting his improvisations were constructed from gestures contained in more or less independent modules. Following the prelude, each suite contains a series of dance movements, reflecting the importance of dance in the social life of Versailles. All of the suites include the core sequence of the French suite: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Often the various dance types occur more than once. The G minor suite includes an allemande, two courantes, a sarabande and a gigue by D’Anglebert, plus a courante (with a ‘double’, or variation, by D’Anglebert), a sarabande and a gigue by Lully (the sources for these transcriptions are not known). For this recording, I have chosen the Lully transcriptions over D’Anglebert’s own dances.

Each suite also contains a number of movements after the core sequence. Several are fashionable dance movements: menuets, gavottes, gaillardes, chaconnes and passacailles. Each suite concludes with a series of transcriptions of instrumental movements from works by Lully, including overtures, airs, chaconnes and passacailles. Most of these pieces had been performed at Versailles in the years preceding the publication of D’Anglebert’s collection. His transcriptions are masterful translations of orchestral texture into a rich keyboard idiom. The melodies and phrase structures are Lully’s, but with the addition of his own keyboard ornaments and chordal embellishments, the sonority and texture are all D’Anglebert’s. The harpsichord pieces conclude with an homage to D’Anglebert’s teacher and colleague, Chambonnières. This magnificent Tombeau, in the form of a gaillarde, is a sumptuous tribute to the man who preceded him in the King’s service at Versailles.

D’Anglebert’s collection was very influential in the years after its publication. As noted above, the table of ornaments served as a model for other composers, both in France and abroad. Many copies of the print survive in libraries and private collections, further testimony to its wide distribution, and a number of the pieces were copied into private manuscripts in France, England and Germany. One of the German copies is particularly interesting: the D-minor suite is found in a manuscript compiled in part by Johann Gottfried Walther around 1712. Walther (a cousin of J.S. Bach) also copied suites by Clérambault, Dandrieu, Dieupart, Le Roux, Lebègue and Nivers. This manuscript is closely associated with J.S. Bach, and bears witness to Bach’s thorough familiarity with the French style.

In the preface, D’Anglebert says that there are pieces in other keys still to be published; and indeed, several pieces not in this collection are found in an autograph manuscript containing earlier versions of the pieces in the print. However, a second volume was never published. D’Anglebert died barely two years after these graceful and inventive pieces were released.

Hank Knox, Montreal, 2003