Du premier Livre 1686
Du Second Livre 1701, Du Troisieme Livre 1711, Du Quatrieme Livre 1717, Du Cinquieme Livre 1725
========= from the cover ==========
To Monsieur de Lully
I should be gravely mistaken if, having the honour of being one of your pupils, and being attached to you be so many other obligations of my own, I did not offer you the es'agitil de Pierre Meliton, qui fut orssays what I have learnt by playing your learned and admirable compositions. 1 therefore presents this collection to you as my Superintendent and Benefactor. I also present it to you as the first man that was ever in all the different characters of Music. Nobody contests your right to this title. The finest geniuses own that there is no surer or easier way to succeed in this profession than by studying your Works. All the Princes of Europe who want the Arts to flourish in their States know of no other way. Remarkable though such advantages may be, yet they could always leave you something to wish for. One of them alone fulfilled your desires and covered you with glory ; and this was when you pleased LOUIS THE GREAT and gratified Posterity with the Airs to which will be celebrated this Monarch's Name and his famous feats. Your songs were the only ones that could justly accompany their immortal History. With her they will pass into all other Nations. We have already seen Peoples, whom the sound of greatness had attracted from the most distant climes, return home as much charmed by your songs, as astonished by the Majesty of the Hero for whom you composed them. What fruits of your works, but at the same time, what honour for myself to have so illustrious a Protector as you and be able each day to prove my affection and respect in being, Sir, your most humble and much obliged servant.
This preface placed by Marin Marais at the head of his First Book of Pieces de Violes is not only a masterpiece of the dedicatory genre; it is also a masterpiece of lucidity. He was placing himself in a position of subservience towards Lully, symmetrical with the position which Lully himself occupied with respect to Louis XIV, as though he had wanted to establish a sort of continuity from the one to the other. In 1686 Lully reigned as absolute monarch over music and this was not only due to his ambitiousness or the exorbitant privileges accumulated by him. He also reigned (as indeed did Louis XIV, of whom Saint-Simon, who was not shy, said he could not address him without trembling) by the power of his personality which was properly "crushing". Lully was do die a year later, and curiously the same thing happened which was to happen thirty years later on the king's death: a complete emptiness and an unparalleled feeling of dismay. There was a great deal of sighing - and no one to take over.
The post-Lully manner of French music lay either in Italianism or, by way of reaction, in the assimilation of some aspects of it. Certain characters or temperaments are powerless to breake the mould in which they were cast. Continuity is in their nature. When this nature is weak, they vegetate, repeating a message conceived by others. If their nature is a strong one, they acknowledge their heritage, proclaim their faithfulness to it and stubbornly adhere to its lines while grumbling about the fickleness of changing times. On the other hand, there are those who embark on an uneasy course : they have to sidestep the issue in order to find the sinuous and difficult path where faithfulness and continuity can be reconciled with a newness which they make theirs without forsaking what contradicts it.
Marin Marais was of the latter sort. His was a strong and faithful temperament. By the age of thirty-four, he had been too close to Lully for too long to change. All his life, then, he was to be a conscious, deliberate and sometimes agressive "lullist". His professed dislike for the language of italianate subversion was such that he positively forbade his pupils to play sonatas (Rumour had it that they did so all the same...). And if his personal genius did graft new scions onto Lully's legacy, his operas remained nevertheless perfectly orthodox.
An artist finds his moral and creative freedom only on condition that there be a privare domain wherein his personality can recover its integrity and assert itself. For Marais, the viol provided this domain. To the Superintendent Lully, whose assistant in conducting his orchestra he had been as a young man, "he was a most humble and much obliged servant". But the exerted full mastery in the art of the viol, where no domination (not even that of his most famous predecessors) weighed upon him, since he was, from the start, aware that he outshone them. This was how Marais won his freedom as an artist; and the preface to Lully, with its humble dedication of the very cause of his moral, psychological and artistic emancipation, attests to a remarkable character and maturity. It reveals one of those strong and gentle temperaments which can reconcile in themselves the spirit of continuity and individual creativity smoothly and without conflict.
When Marais brought out his First Book and dedicated it to Lully, the viol had been cultivated and appreciated in Europe, particularly in France, since the XVIth century. From that time it had been, with the lute, a favourite instrument, so that all conditions were met for a period of flowering. For a sufficient time, masters must have been elaborating a language and technique of viol performance which came to a head in the middle of the XVIIth century with Maugars and Sainte-Colombe. Marais was thus in possession of a style appropriate to the instrument, a technique, a taste and a audience which would enable him to bring the art of the viol to its highest degree of fulfillment; finally, he appeared at a moment in the French sensibility when the tradition of an intimate, even intimist music - which one would have thought had been eclipsed by the dazzling pageantry of the Lully and Louis-Quatorze style - was coming up to the surface and bringing into contact the contemporaries of Fenelon and Couperin, and those of the beginning of the century The last years of the XVIIth century and the beginning of the XVIIIth were one of the periods when the French most appreciated and cultivated the pleasure of a gentle, confidential music. The intimate, contemplative and tender music is the privileged domain of the viol, the genre where it can be itself most happily ; for the viol needs a music which is more introverted than outgoing, more meditative than descriptive or expressive, more "inward-looking", wrapped-up and delicate than lively, or to employ the word in favour in the XVIIth century, more "tender".
The two Suites presented in this recording are arranged in a very strict ordering: a prelude, followed by the traditional sequence of four dances : allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue - to which Marais adds a gavotte and minuet in the Suite in d minor, and a series of free pieces: fantasie, chaconne, tombeau... in the Suite in G.
The tradition of playing homage to a departed musician by means of a tombeau was already an old one in Marais' time. It was an earlier genre, cultivated bu lutenists and harpsichordists, and Marais seems anxious to take his place in a tradition which did not exist as yet for other instrumentists. He was to come back to the genre in the admirable tombeau de Mr de Lull) and in the moving Tombeau de M' Marais le Cadet. Who was M' Meliton who inspired Marais with one of the finest pieces in this collection ? Whoever, it is a most beautiful name and a most beautiful program, that which induced him to seek those "mellifluous tones"... Probably it was Pierre Meliton, organist at Saint-Jean-en-Greve from 1670 to 1682 who, before the paralysis of his hand put an end to his musical career, may possibly have played the theorbo as well. Be that as it may, Marin Marais found for this forgotten musician accents of such gravity and purity, such intensity and such sweetness also, that it seems that he was never to be such an "Angel" (as Hubert le Blanc put it) as he was for this distiller of honey... The admirable canon which opens the tombeau with its fifteen bars would be enough to touch the heart. But this theme is going to transform itself and develop into a sequence of deeply moving recitatives, punctuated here and there by sharp descending fifths stressed by slides or by sequences of sevenths, and everywhere by these harmonic clashes and suspensions which fleetingly narrow the harmony or send a quiver through it. One moment, a song soars up, serenity seems close at hand, until it is interrupted by a sort of descent into Inferno... For such pages Marin Marais ought to figure, not far from Couperin, among the musician-poets of the XVIIIth century.
-Philippe Beaussant (translated by Josine Monbet)