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Music by the Forquerays, pere et fils
The birth date of Antoine Forqueray pere can only be vaguely estimated to have been in 1671 or 1672. More certain is his reputation as a superb gamba player and composer of French music which had enthusiastically taken account of the new Italian style typified by Corelli and continued by Vivaldi. Also the subject of trustworthy testimony is his cruelty towards his son Jean-Baptiste (born in 1700) whom he attempted to lock up in jail, possibly because he was jealous of his equally prodigious talent, but on the pretext of his bad behavior. In a letter to the Lieutenant General of Police, still surviving, we read:
"Antoine Forqueray member of the 'musique de la chambre du Roi' points out to your lordship that he has the misfortune to have a son named Jean-Baptiste, aged 26, who, since his youth, has constantly demonstrated an inclination for gambling, women, and theft . . .and believes that a period of sharp correction may change the unfortunate boy".
Despite this, Jean-Baptiste seems to have borne no grudge, for in 1747 he published a book of his father's gamba music as well as a book of harpsichord transcriptions of the same pieces. These are so skillfully executed that they must be reckoned as one of the major challenges of the French harpsichord repertoire, and one of the landmarks of keyboard transcription.
It is these viol pieces of Forqueray pere interspersed with the transcriptions of his
music by his son which form the basis of the present recording. In accordance with the advice of several commentators, the selection draws freely from the printed collections without rigorously adhering to the printed order: to choose, after all, is to exercise good taste.
Forqueray's music contrasts with that of Marin Marais, the other leading light amongst composers of solo gamba music. Where Marais remains firmly within the conventions of French taste, Forqueray incorporates all the extravagances of the Italian style which threatened to split critical opinion in two. It was not that Italy had any tradition of gamba music which in any way rivaled the French, rather was it their violinistic virtuosity coupled with a somewhat different harmonic palette which could readily be married to the inherited tradition of French dances and pieces de caractere.
There can be no doubt that Forqueray was a well-known and respected figure in Parisian musical life of the 18th century, playing with both Francois Couperin and the lutenist Robert de Visee. Daquin de Chateaulyon, son of the celebrated organist, fairly summed up Forqueray's achievement in his Siede litteraire de Louis XV of 1752:
"One could say that nobody surpasses Marais. In fact one person did equal him: the famous Forqueray. He came into the world just at the time when the Italians had been emulated in France to an astonishing degree, about the year 1698. He attempted to emulate on the viol everything that they could do on the violin and he achieved this to the point of extreme mastery. The particular lines and gestures of the most striking Italian composers came so easily to him that in all his pieces you find a certain salt which does not season even the most carefully composed of the pieces by Marin Marais. Where Marais relied on natural grace, Forqueray was most contrived but his Art never spoiled his subject matter.
A tribute to his first biographer and author of an "Essay on music old and new", the Allemande La Laborde shows Forqueray at his most French, but even writing within the set phrase lengths of this dance with which all suites traditionally began, his use of sharp contrast of register and cross-string see-sawing at once betrays his Italianate allegiances. La Cottin demonstrates that Jean-Baptiste recognised that the essence of transcription is re-creation. A piece which was originally a melodic line with accompaniment is transformed into a fantasy in which treble and bass participate equally. Furthermore, it exploits the harpsichord's essential resonance and its established techniques of legato and over-legato, particularly suited to the tenor register so beloved of the French. Simple melodic figures from the gamba version achieve new meaning as they are sustained to form a chiaroscuro of harmonies whose gained intensity more than adequately compensates for that lost in its inability to sing as passionately as the viol.
La Portugaise plunges straight into Italianate martellato repeated notes, arpeggios, harmonic daring and biting double-stopping while Forqueray's name-piece skilfully manages to incorporate both French and Italian elements by gradually overlaying a mainly stepwise idea with a sequence of harmonic extravagances.
With La Marella we enter a still more extravagant world. The curious displaced rhythm of the opening turns to unusually full, almost pianistic, chords in the middle section. Here, surely, the harpsichordist may register the chords to suit the resonance of his instrument for Jean-Baptiste appears to have attempted an impression, in terms of the massive ictus of the plukked string, of the bow-bite and sympathetic resonance of the grandest of bass viols.
The Sarabande La d'Aubonne is a musicographical masterpiece, for Forqueray fils has successfully suggested the sensitive harpsichordist's recourse to rubato by means of vertical misalignment on the printed page. He added a printed instruction to the executant:
'This piece must be played sensitively and with much good taste and feeling: to show the correct interpretation I have added little crosses, signifying that the chords in the left hand should be played before those in the right. In all other places the right hand should play first."
La Ferrand is traditionally French in its rhythm and stretches the player with leaps and ornaments while La Couperin pays tribute to many aspects of that composer's style: his ability to be contrapuntal without being learned, and to enjoy the afterglow of the fully voiced dissonance. La Buisson has an altogether lighter touch. A chaconne, purely French in its charm and marked to be played gratieusement. it includes passages of intricate virtuosity and towards the end contains a fine example of bariolage techniques.
Little wonder that Forqueray should have paid tribute to his like-minded violinistic compatriot in La Leclair. Its cross-string motive seems to be a direct pastiche, transcribed for gamba and then harpsichord, of what France's most accomplished (and most Italian) violinist could do.
In La Rameau the tribute seems more to sonority and harmonic experiment, for we should not forget that this composer was a major theorist as well as composer and player.
In Jupiter the player, fired with deific enthusiasm, must execute what is arguably the most difficult and exciting piece in the gambist's repertoire. Forqueray's mastery is clear not from this alone, but from the memorable curve of the line of its refrain, at once charming and threatening, and giving rise to an increasingly inspired series of interludes. These perfectly exemplify the essence of their composer's experiments to provoke a controlled excitement within the inherited framework which was the tradition of the grand siecle.
-Richard Langham Smith, 1991