Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba
Mitzi Meyerson, harpsichord
Thomas Boysen, theorbo and baroque guitar
Juan Carlos de Mulder, baroque guitar
Alba Fresno, viola da gamba
Francois Fauche, reciter
Pedro Estevan, percussion
Recorded in Cuenca (Iglesia de San Miguel), Spain, in June 1999
Engineered by Isidro Matamoros
Edited by Bertram Kornacher and Carlos Cester
Produced by Emilio Moreno, Paolo Pandolfo and Carlos Cester
========= from the cover ==========
THE LABYRINTH & OTHER STORIES
Louis XIV of France loved his gardens, he loved them so much that he himself adopted the role of guide when guests came to visit. His remarks had quite an effect on his visitors, and for this reason he considered it worthwhile to write a Way to Visit the Gardens of Versailles, a way that he held in high esteem, which is shown by the six successive versions that propose a walk through sumptuous scenery viewed from constantly changing angles, instead of a methodical description of a rich collection. Hence, it would be mistaken to think that the gardens of Versailles obey a rational layout, a clear composition and a supposedly classical idea, after the French manner: they are, in fact, a kind of labyrinth where at each turn, at each surprise, a new story is begun.
Marin Marais -master of an instrument that rapidly fell into disuse compared to the organ and the harpsichord- rose to fame between Lully and Rameau, in the shadow of the really great musicians of the century, such as Fran?ois Couperin, with whom he maintained a relationship characterised by a somewhat distant cordiality, or Richard Delalande, his old colleague in the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois choir, and he might have passed unnoticed or been given a place in history solely thanks to the interest generated by the fashion for baroque music among a number of viola da gamba enthusiasts. But this is not the case: in effect, apart from four completely forgotten operas written in the style of Lully, and a Te Deum once performed at the convent of the Feuillants for the convalescent Dauphin that has been lost, his only remaining works are for bass viol, but... what works! Some six hundred pieces for solo viol, a hundred odd for two, three, and for trio; all of them arranged in a variety of suites according to their importance, their difficulty and their character, the publication of which, book after book, occupied the composer throughout his life. A unique achievement of its type: the more than six hundred works for viol are roughly comparable, both in number, variety, diversity of length and difficulty and, of course, in quality, to the corpus of Lieder by Schubert.
In his Avertissements (comments) Marin Marais imparted his opinion about the use that could be made of his works: "To satisfy the different tastes that the public may have as regards the viol, I have deemed it worthwhile to divide this Fourth Book into three parts, varying the pieces so that each individual can find what is best for him." Taken in this sense, the enormous collection formed by his five books of pieces is a kind of labyrinth that the performer can wander through freely, creating a personal route and following his own sensitivity; because one of the qualities of all great musical writing consists not only of procuring different interpretations of each piece taken individually, but also of providing players with a number of feasible, constantly renewed arrangements and allowing them to recreate in an inexhaustible fashion a unity which perhaps not even the composer had envisaged.
"Leaving the castle by the hall of the Cour de Marbre, one reaches the terrace; here one should pause at the top of the stairs to consider the arrangement of the parterres, the pi?ces d'eau and fountains." In this manner the King commences his visit to the gardens. Then he recommends heading towards the Parterre du Midi to contemplate the Orangerie and the Lac des Suisses. The tour continues along the Hundred Stairs. "One enters the labyrinth and, after descending to the ducks and dog comes up again next to Bacchus." But the labyrinth has not survived: Louis XVI, at the beginning of his reign, ordered it to be replaced by the Queen's Coppice. The maze was designed by Le N?tre, after an idea of Charles Perrault, for the amusement and education of the Dauphin, and it concealed, in the corners of its tree-lined pathways and behind tall branches, thirty nine fountains of lead animals painted au naturel illustrating the fables of Aesop that Jean de La Fontaine had just put into French verse. The painter Jean Cotelle, who depicted the gardens, left us an accurate portrayal of the entrance to the labyrinth: a fountain of interwoven branches and multicoloured birds spouting water, a delicate arpeggio of harmonious colours, of subtle cascades, of shimmering light, a pr?lude, in short, an invitation to lose oneself delightfully...
Marin Marais knew the labyrinth at Versailles: he was awarded his diploma as a Chamber viol player on the first day of the month in August 1679, at the age of twenty-three, as successor of the late Gabriel Caignet. And perhaps the sound of his instrument echoed through the Labyrinth, a small concert hidden behind the foliage that enraptured courtiers and guests. He also knew the last glowing embers of the splendour of Versailles, before the austere period of Maintenon and political and military defeats. And he knew that nearby the labyrinth there was another, similarly renowned, coppice called the Ballroom. Which could explain the chaconne which brings his long, mysterious Labyrinthe to a close.
This composition was so successful, and so astonished his contemporaries, that Titon du Tillet, a chronicler generally too fond of endearing anecdotes to deserve our full trust, wrote in 1732 -in other words, four years after Marin Marais' death- in an irrefutably truthful tone: "We are familiar with the fecundity and beauty of the genius of that Musician by the quantity of works he composed. We always find in them good taste and a surprising variety: his great sagacity appears in many of his works, but mainly in two of his pieces that the Masters of Art consider very highly. The piece from his Fourth Book, titled Le Labyrinthe, in which after roaming through various keys, touching diverse dissonances, and underlining, first with sombre tones and later with lively and sprightly ones, the uncertainty of a man lost in a labyrinth, the composer manages happily to find the way out at last and finishes with a graceful and natural sounding Chaconne. But even more surprising for the Connoisseurs of Music was his Piece called, La Gamme, which is a pi?ce de symphonie that imperceptibly ascends all the notes of the octave, and afterwards descends visiting in harmonious and melodic Song all the different tones of music."
It is hard to imagine the sound world of the age of Louis XIV: the din of the Grandes Eaux, the murmuring of fountains and the birdsong of Versailles were matched, in Paris, by festivities with bellringers and the chiming of the canonical hours in the convents in every district, the angelus, vespers and the death knell rang from parish churches in a whirlwind of swifts, an entire range of sound colours that young Marin heard for the first time in the Saint-M?dard parish church, located in a popular area on the banks of the Bi?vre whose water attracted tanners and leather craftsmen. Vineau Marais, Marin's father, was a shoemaker, a profession, together with roofer, to which the Marais family devoted themselves faithfully, with the exception of Vineau's brother, Louis, a priest and "doctor of theology", who watched over the family with the greatest concern. Marin Marais joined the boys' chorus at Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois where his uncle was vicar; he joined very late, at the age of eleven, and he stayed until 1672, even though he had "lost his boyhood voice" a long time before, a special treatment that might have been due to the influence of his uncle, but most likely to his exceptional talent as a musician. But he acted on his own when he asked the chapter of Saint-Germain for permission to leave. He was sixteen years old, with a solid musical training and, perhaps, in the labyrinth of his thoughts, the bells of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois were pealing out and being answered, from the other side of the Seine, in the sumptuous dying light of summer, by the bells of the abbey Saint-Germain-des-Pr?s.
"The bells of the abbey of St. Germain vibrated in such a charming manner that certain Majesties, Highnesses, and Excellencies would rise at night to hear them. Lully wished to live near them, so that their sound could work on him an effect of adducite mihi psaltem. The diminution of Tone after the first attack produces a fourth. The small bell at St. Germain, in diminished Tone, produces a fifth in combination with the Great Bell, and the latter a third with its sister, and so this is the most perfect of chimes." There is no doubt that Hubert Le Blanc, in his D?fense de la Basse de Viole, published in 1740, twelve years after the death of Marin Marais, had the infinite echoes of Marin's composition Cloches ou carillon in mind: "Father Marais and Forcroi [Forqueray] senior provided just one note, but they made sure it was sonorous, like the Great Bell at St. Germain, playing it in the air as is recommended, in short, having struck with the bow, they let the vibration effect the strings..." And Marin chose the confident rhythm of a polonaise to march towards his destiny and, while he followed his path, he became more and more engrossed in his thoughts, until he attained a level of introversion akin to silence at the very heart of the viol.
Thus, in this suite, that constitutes a labyrinthine visit by the performer through the contents of the numerous suites that Marin Marais' work is made of, the tone is set: there is only one instrument capable of carrying out the sound dreams of the young musician and revealing all the nuances of its iridescence, and this instrument is the bass viol; and there is only one master capable of teaching him those nuances, and this master is Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. Marin Marais said goodbye to the choir at Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois in order to study with Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe and learn the mysteries and refinement of an absolutely French art, descendent of the lutenists' craft, an art that he would practice faithfully throughout his whole life; an art full of fantasy and fertile imagination in the initially rigid framework of a suite of dances, but soon afterwards flooded by free flowing suites and by the increasingly frequent addition of character pieces.
After Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe came the great Lully. Marin Marais was not yet twenty years old; the Royal Academy of Music, directed by the Florentine, engaged him as a viol player; we can find him mentioned in the libretto of Atys, on its premiere in 1676 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, costumed by Jean B?rain who dressed him for the part of Dream. Opera was a sensational discovery for him, and its influence affected a number of his works for viol.
The five pieces that come after the Polonaise form a small youthful suite: a Muzette in the guise of prelude, improvised with the grace of tender youth, the Guitare, like a refrain hummed by an innocent child, to the accompaniment of his drumming fingers lulled inexorably by the sounds he makes, the Georgienne which introduces the drama of adolescence, excessive, dissonant, made of contrasts, the first loss of love, bitter rebellion which gradually fades into resignation and dies in a long and sorrowful Plainte. But youth, with the nimbleness and elegance of birds, shines through, lively, unconcerned. Marin Marais had a passion for painting (by the end of his life he owned some forty paintings, and was friends with many painters): every ounce of freshness and delicacy of a Chardin, aware of the ordinary things, is present in Le Jeu du Volant.
Life itself is a labyrinth within the labyrinth of the world; the paths of a personal course creep necessarily into the great stages of History. When Marin Marais is born in 1656, Pascal writes Les Provinciales; Le Vau, Le Brun and Le N?tre build Vaux-le-Vicomte for the superintendant Fouquet; Louis Couperin and Chambonni?res rule the keyboard; the lute is a star starting to fade and the viol is beginning to shine with Nicolas Hotman. The First Book of Pieces for Viol was published in 1686, shortly after the Edict of Nantes was revoked; Puritanism and the austerity of Madame de Maintenon dominated the Court: no more comedies at Versailles, the State coffers were empty, the King ordered the solid silver furniture designed by Le Brun to be melted down. 1700, the Spanish War of Succession; Corelli publishes his Opus 5 for violin with twenty-six variations on La Follia, the following year, Marin Marais publishes his Second Book of Pieces for Viol, which contains thirty-two couplets de Folies: French music is in the midst of a war too, under attack from the violin and Italian music. In 1711, the Grand Dauphin died, the first in a long series of losses that would decimate the royal family; Fran?ois Couperin inaugurated the great organs at the Chapel Royal; Marin Marais released his Third Book of Pieces for Viol. In 1717 Watteau painted L'Embarquement pour Cyth?re, a work that signalled the beginning of an age of grace that the death of the old King, two years earlier, had made possible. The Fourth Book of Pieces for Viol was published in the same year, with the freely flowing Suitte d'un go?t ?tranger. A few days before the King's death, in August 1715, in the Gallery of Mirrors the audience of leave-taking of the Persian ambassador took place. In accordance with Louis XIV's wishes the audience was exceptionally solemn; we can guess that all of the King's musicians would attend, as Mehemet Reza Beg, emissary of the Shah of Persia, had his own music. The curiosity sparked by this pomp was enormous, a fact that Montesquieu recalled in his Les Lettres Persanes. 1725 was the year of the creation of the Concert Spirituel, which allowed musicians to side step the exorbitant privileges established by Lully and play Italian music: it was also the twilight of the bass viol. Marin Marais published his fifth, and last, book.
There are two kinds of labyrinth: those that, for reasons of defence or amusement, intertwine the largest possible number of paths in a contained space in order to lead the daring adventurer astray, until he is completely lost, and those that are just one long path rolled around itself, like the "paths of Jerusalem", engraved in the paving-stones of our cathedrals which could be followed on one's knees in imitation of Jesus ascending the Calgary, or simply demonstrated that there are no shortcuts in life and that each event must be lived to the end.
Marin Marais had already left his position at Court a long time ago and retired to live in the district of his childhood and grow flowers in his garden; he might be strolling in the nearby Botanical gardens, climbing the twists of the spiral labyrinth to the belvedere from where he can see the whole of Paris and his life.
The next five pieces constitute, each in its own way, a drama, as the middle-aged man seems much more attached to the events of his period and more aware of the mysterious alchemy that makes them resonate in his own most secret alleyways. Even when he borrows the exotic theme of a political event, such as the Marche Persane, it describes something quite different with its sombre drums and its slow progression with no return. Stranger still is his Rondeau le Bijou. What former tenderness, what never forgotten seduction, what woman's name are held in a trace of perfume that obsess a man bent over such an elusive memory? Thus the old Countess, in La Dame de Pique, sings to herself, delightfully, vainly, a tune from her bright youth. As for Sarabande ? l'Espagnol, it is all sensuality, carnal strength, anticipation, tension, violent looks and passion. The Inquisition, moreover, had condemned this dance that might have come from the New World as "so lascivious in words, so indecent in movements, that it is enough to inflame even the most honest people".
In the portraits of the period, as in our photographs of yesterday and today, you look more like your time than yourself. The portrait of Marin Marais that Andr? Bouys left us is no exception, and it would be asking a lot to expect the document to show us his bill of health: was Marin Marais operated to cure his bladder stones? His wine cellar was wellstocked with Burgundy wine, but that is not sufficient to provoke bladder stones, nor does the fact he mentions coffee in a piece from the Third Book prove that Marais had used this beverage as a remedy. What is clear, however, is that Le Tableau de l'Op?ration de la Taille makes no attempt at being a grotesque or ironic description: therefore one can assume that the composer had first hand experience of the event. An atrociously painful operation: the patient was perched and tied to a high table; after localising the stone via natural ducts, the "bladder cutter" made an incision opening a path, through the perineum or the abdominal tissue, until the bladder was reached and a kind of forceps (called tenette) could be introduced to grip and extract the stone. Marin Marais might have taken opiates or other plants such as mandrake or henbane, whose soporific, narcotic and painkilling effects, in the absence of anaesthetic, swept the patient into a dizzying Tourbillon (whirlwind) of incoherent thoughts, or perhaps the selection and order of the pieces here suggests another interpretation, another way out, a fatal one (the labyrinth is also a place of forced inventions), a whirlwind of agony barely alleviated by the plants and alcohol, perhaps the agony of a child -his son Sylvain?-, the same child who took delight, while he lay in his sickbed, in a simple ritornello on the guitar. Le Tableau de l'Op?ration de la Taille would later become a tableau in several parts: the high table seen by the child, the doubts of the grown-ups, the surgeon's orders. And the long preparation for death, which endured the Tourbillon, and would end with the Tombeau pour Marais le Cadet, so sober, so barely and tenderly wrapped in hope.
Can the numerous detours in a full life shed a little light upon it for us, according to the paths chosen, even when it has been obscure? In the complexity of a man and his work, in the choices that a performer today must make, whether from personal taste or musical necessity, such as a grouping by key or respecting the structure of a suite, which begins with a pr?lude and ends with a chaconne, reveals unexpected connections and some even more secret truths: what did the pilgrim find at the centre of the labyrinth, at the end of his journey on his knees?
There is a third type of labyrinth, one that always returns to its point of departure. An elderly Marin Marais returned to the district of his childhood, the ardent defender of French music had not altered his stance in the slightest despite the unquestionable supremacy of the violin: there is some truth to the saying that it is hard for a poor man to give up what he has earnt by his own efforts; and it is a possible explanation here. The great circular celebration of the Chaconne en rondeau closes this imaginary suite; it recalls the essential role that dance played in the Court of Louis XIII and of Louis XIV, the enchanting ballets of past splendour, in which the King played his own part; it recalls what an instrument of power it was. For Marin Marais his return to the dance, to the movement and the gesture, was like going back to the very source of his music.
Translated by Tom Skipp