Paolo Pandolfo, viola da gamba
Guido Balestracci, viola da gamba
Thomas Boysen, theorbo and baroque guitar
Dolores Costoyas, baroque guitar and theorbo
Mitzi Meyerson, harpsichord
Recorded in Berlin (Siemensvilla), Germany, in October 2001
Engineered and edited by Manuel Mohino
Produced by Manuel Mohino and Paolo Pandolfo
"Each stroke of the bow is a specific movement, and the challenge of the sound it produces is to breathe life into an imaginary choreography without which the music would lose its soul." (P. Pandolfo)
With every new project, Paolo Pandolfo confirms his position as the greatest viola da gamba player of his generation, each time unveiling a world whose existence was hitherto unknown to us. 70 minutes of dazzling virtuosity, the most communicative musicality and immense interpretative intelligence. One cannot say enough when referring to the wisdom and inexhaustible energy of this artist who is securing the future of early music which in these last times had seemed so predictable and conceptually weary.
Grand Ballet goes straight to the heart of Marais' music, to its essence, which is no other than the dance and the gesture, of crucial importance in the years of splendour of Louis XIV. Magnificent liner notes written by the luthier Pierre Jaquier, a regular collaborator on Pandolfo's French projects, put the finishing touch to a CD which we present with the certainty that it will set a new standard.
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The Grand Ballet
Colours, iridescences, beauty of gesture, movements; the movement of bodies swathed in brocades and the moire silk of the gowns, the movement of bodies in the elegance of postures in harmony with social conventions, or in the controlled effort to not displease; but also interior movements, secret impulses of the individuals who little by little are liberated from the courtly model in the golden light, vague and trembling, which heralds the twilight: did it ever occur to anyone that a painter of tremendous genius, one of the greatest poets of all times, might have had something in common with a court musician, a musician rediscovered but recently, yet nevertheless condemned to remain in the shadows cast by some of his illustrious contemporaries, even though he was the most prolix composer of music for the viol and one of its predominant figures? Antoine Watteau was the son of a roofer from Valenciennes; Marin Marais, son of a Parisian shoemaker, had uncles and brothers who were roofers. Perhaps, the world seen from a rooftop and having to balance oneself while walking helped form their spirit and taught them to perceive a world that expires with every change of light and a dance that ends with each gesture. 1717, the year in which the Fourth Book of Pieces for the Viol was published, was precisely when Watteau, after many delays and procrastinations, presented his L'Embarquement pour l'ile de Cythere to the Academy and received the title of "Painter of the Gallant Festivities".
Could it have been that Marin Marais, an art enthusiast, might have met Antoine Watteau, a music enthusiast, at the home of the financier Pierre Crozat? Astute collector, whose collection was one of the most beautiful in Europe, he was a patron openly in favour of Italian music which was the major protagonist at his parties and private concerts, the famous soirees de Crozat. It does not really matter, because certain works of art appear immersed in an atmosphere that, with imperceptible movements, unhinge the established order of things and impress upon them their mysterious life. Watteau's difficult, moody, and contradictory character, the distance he took from the powerful and patronising, his brilliant ascent, seem very far from Marin Marais, who by contrast was considered slow and methodical in shaping his destiny and was a perfect courtier. Nonetheless, they were contemporaries, at least during the best of their output, and they shared a similar way of perceiving things: a party scene painted by Watteau, with its recherche colour scheme, with its immediate decorative effect, the instability of its light, its infinite and hidden psychological resonance, with all its poetry and its delicate sadness captured by the insight of a subtle spirit, transmits from the end of his brush the same strange enchantment as some of the suites by Marais. They have in common a trade inherited from a tradition which they did not question: they were not revolutionary in their techniques, they were sons of the working-class, in fact they were very respectful of the conventions thanks to which, after all, they ascended in the zealous and arrogant esprits forts society of Paris and Versailles. But they did express something new thanks to an interior movement that coincided, in singular fashion, with a time that was also one of profound change. Already Watteau, in the scenes of war, rejected the heroic exploits in favour of painting only the monotony of each day. The dance, which was for Louis xiv his greatest preoccupation after the war, was no longer perceived by Marin Marais as in the times of grandeur of a kingdom whose laws were undermined and then collapsed one after another.
The Grand Ballet was then the last part of a ball, the most solemn, a vast gavotte during which the courtiers, who had learned the latest steps from their teachers the previous day, flaunted not only their perfect execution of the new steps, but also, and perhaps above all, their demeanour and manners, their respect for etiquette, the proof of their perfect upbringing in the sense in which the King demanded; in a word, and in reality, their perfect submission. This game of reverences was a very political means of assuring the reign of order in the Court. It is not at all certain that these balls were really diversions for the courtiers: the representation of power and the royal preeminence had transformed them into ceremonies which it was not a good idea to miss. All the same, this dance, which regulated the life of the Court just as strategy regulated the interventions and campaigns on the battlefield, was so profoundly rooted in everyday life that it is hard for us today to imagine the importance it had in education during the Old Regime. A few figures will make the issue clear: a hundred dance schools and academies in Paris at the end of the 17th century, a swarm of dance professors going from house to house, a small violin in their pocket, to teach the bourgeois parvenu as well as the young noble the proper demeanour and good manners, the grace and ease of worldly behaviour; this as opposed to forty or so teachers of the harpsichord and the organ, the instruments most played. Another testimony is the delightful dance lesson on a minuet by Lully described by Moliere in the comedy-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme:
dance professor: A hat, sir, please. La, la, la; La, la, la, la, la, la; La, la, la, again; La, la, la; La, la. In rhythm, please. La, la, la, la, la. The right leg. La, la, la. Do not move the shoulders so. La, la, la, la, la; La, la, la, la, la. You are not using your two arms. La, la, la, la, la. Raise the head. Turn the tip of the foot out. La, la, la. Straighten the torso.
monsieur jourdain: Eh?
dance professor: That's it. Could not be better.
monsieur jourdain: By the way, please show me how one must bow when meeting a marchioness; I will need it very soon.
In his five books of pieces for the viol, written over a period of forty years (between 1686 and 1725), the structure of the suite greatly evolves: little by little, dance movements give way to character pieces that are "received favourably today" (introduction to the Fifth Book ). Nevertheless, the suites chosen here, extracted from the Second Book (1701) and from the Third (1711), with an incursion into the Fourth Book (1717) - justified by its very author: ?I could not refuse the strong insistences of various individuals to insert here my second Muzette from the third book because of the counter part that I had later added"-, rigorously preserve the structure that characterises the French dance suite and that is its principal theme, that is to say, the uninterrupted order: allemande - courante - sarabande - gigue, within a tonal unity. The pieces that surround this nucleus, and which are like a catalogue of society dances, offer a margin of freedom to the interpreter, which Marin Marais explains in the Third Book tellingly dedicated to "the Public":
"The honour which the public has granted me over the past thirty years by playing my pieces has incited me to dedicate to it this third book. I hope that it will be so good as to notice that all the attentions included in this work have no other goal than that of pleasing it. The great number of short and easily playable pieces included herein is proof that it has been my desire to satisfy the urgent requests that have been reiterated many times and in many places since the appearance of my second book. However, I have felt it was my duty to add some pieces of greater difficulty, full of double-stops, to please those who are more advanced in their viola playing. Lastly, the increase of indications that are not to be found in my previous two books, and which are essential to the style of my pieces, should persuade the public that I have not spared any care, hoping to deserve the generosity with which it has honoured me until now. I should like to equal the obligations that I owe it with my gratitude. MARAIS."
Without a doubt this style, these considerations, encourage the buyer. The engraving of scores was expensive (Marais, a man of taste, chose the best engravers), and selling them was the point; for this reason every preface, to a lesser or greater extent, must satisfy. However, the double-stops which put in evidence the virtuosity of the interpreter, and the choice between divers pieces of varying difficulty for the same dance movement, are not indicative of an exclusive interest in an execution adapted to the technical possibilities of an extensive public: these factors allow for the playing with the spirit of a suite, to distinguish it with its own character, organize it as one wishes. There are no picturesque titles, no character pieces, no psychological portraits, no descriptive scenes; only impulses, gestures, contrasts, the play of rhythms and nuances, clashes, elevations, turbulences, majestic entrances, falls, hidden recesses, jolts, tremors, silent languor, and above all circular movements, untiringly repeated (thirty-two Couplets de Folies, thirtytwo variations for the Portuguese dance in triple metre that Corelli had immortalised the year before in his fifth book of sonatas for the violin!), an immense rondo with variations, the endless dance of life and its mysterious course... That which was an institution during the height of the reign of Louis xiv, the grandiose choreography arranged like a garden of Le Notre and entirely at the service of His Royal Majesty, was invaded by an unforeseen seed and blazed at country fairs, spontaneous and ephemeral parties of a dreamlike and decadent quality. Feasts in the manner of Watteau...
The great musical eras reflect man's thinking and his representation of the world. In the Middle Ages, plain chant construes a stable universe, governed and inspired by the divine voice of the cantus firmus. This world without turbulence, passionless yet full of sacred glory, is the world that God desires for mankind: fluidity, a sort of rhythmic inconsistence which manifests a sonic eternity in the image of the Creator. While the dance is limited to the evocation of the activities of work and the days of the calendar, it moulds itself to the movement of the working day and of the seasons, it gives rhythm to man's occupations and to the diversions of feast days. When the Renaissance, approaching its end, discovered the great physical laws of the universe, it became the task of the temporal powers to consolidate their legitimacy with diversions drawn from the same principles which governed the celestial harmony. As in the case of the Church, with the pomp of its increasingly theatrical liturgy, absolutism, by its divine right, was forced to present the image of a temporal kingdom which submitted to the same laws which ruled the Universe, the work of God. Courtly ballet, favourite entertainment of the Valois and their courtiers, was born at the end of the 16th century, and in this form would reach its apogee under Louis xiv, until the disheartening and disillusionment of his reign's end when the spirit of diversion became entangled with the meticulously established representation of power. The norms of the dance suite derive from this. When in 1686 Marin Marais has his First Book of Pieces for the Viol engraved sixteen years have already passed since Louis xiv refused to dance on the stage any longer (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is itself from 1670!). From then on ballet loses its vitality, the dance takes on a professional bent and finds its place in the opera. It is evident then that Marin Marais, notwithstanding his relationship with the world of professional dance (the trios of 1692 are dedicated to the famous ballerina Mademoiselle Roland), did not conceive his pieces for dancing. We have been very insistent upon the almost exclusive affection for French music that the undisputed master of the viol nurtured, although his illustrious contemporaries, Couperin with his gouts reunis for example, had welcomed Italian music open-armed: was the great Marais perhaps only a nostalgic courtier?
The improvisation we find here as a prelude to the Folies d'Espagne is perhaps a key which the interpreter proposes to the listener so as to understand the choice of pieces as well as the particular spirit which he wants to bring forth, or that which he finds in them and which he endeavours to animate. "My maxim, in the Rondos, is to vary the refrain as much as possible", wrote Marin Marais in the introduction to the Fourth Book. Folias , chaconnes and passacaglias are among the dances built upon variation above an ostinato bass. Following the score we find the melodic material very much in the background; variation is everywhere, permutations of the pieces, a mixture of a dance and its variation, diminutions of the refrain intoned with the tip of the bow, sonic preparations reminiscent of that last look in the mirror in the wings of the theatre, steps quickly and discreetly rehearsed before a peremptory stage entrance, repetitions invented beneath the weight of a sudden inspiration, spontaneous embellishment of the continuo with the complicity of the other musicians... There is always the possibility of animating the work with a personal touch, with an unexpected improvisation, an authorised liberty, a brush-stroke of colour, a ray of light, the grace of a gesture. And yet, behind this feast of gesture and sound we find, inflexible, unalterable, the old order of the dance suite: allemande - courante - sarabande - gigue.
Gesture and sound
The gesture, from the most concealed to the most manifest, from that which emerges directly from the interior of the soul to that which proceeds from the body, whether the latter be absolutely contained or pompous and histrionic..., the gesture, we were saying, is the raw material of the suites of Marais. Arms, hands, legs, bodies which move through space. Opening, closing, lifting, falling, striding with majestic gait, imperious and noble, executing lithe pirouettes... Little does it matter if these very notes, concretely, have been used to dance at Court (although at times the many repetitions, as many as six, in the Gavotte in A minor, seem to suggest the possibility), nor does it matter that no choreographies of Allemandes have come down to us (due to which fact arises the controversy as to whether or not they should be danced), because perhaps, in their majestic flow, they might have become dances, and of the most noble kind... Each work is impregnated with a gestural quality which emanates from the very bow, a direct prolongation of the interpreter's gestures ("... ils [Marais and Forqueray] jouaient avec l'archet toujours en l'air..."). In fact, here each stroke of the bow is a specific movement, and the challenge of the sound it produces is to breathe life into an imaginary choreography without which the music would lose its soul.
Gesture and sound: inextricably interwoven... the gesture is the root of each note, and the sound... is the origin of each gesture.