Hille Perl and Lee Santana, a German viola da gamba player and an American theorbo player from Florida, met in Bremen's train station in 1984 and formed what they call a professional and personal "work in progress." Here they offer a disc of music by Marin Marais, a renowned French viol virtuoso and court musician of the late seventeenth century. What fame he has among general listeners comes from his appearance as a character in the 1991 film Tous les matins du monde, which in music-mad Germany caused passers-by, Perl says, to stop asking her "hey, is that a guitar?" and start asking "is that a six- or a seven-string?" In the U.S., music for viol and theorbo qualifies as an out-of-the-way corner of the musical universe, and Perl and Santana make things still more obscure with a lengthy liner-note justification for performing the music on this particular pair of instruments. (It involves the discovery of a Scottish manuscript that did not specify the bass instrumentation that appeared in later Marais publications.) Nevertheless, it's all somehow quite compelling. Perl is an exceptionally smooth player, and she executes the dances of these French suites with the lightness they deserve. In performing the variation sets that Marais would have used to display his own virtuosity, she's got power in reserve. And the music throughout has that elusive meshing of mutually familiar personalities that is the mark of effective chamber music. Marin Marais: Pour la Violle et le Theorbe, in short, comes off as something personal - an impression intensified by the elegant dedication, written in the old-fashioned style of the French court, of the music to the public by the performers. One solo theorbo piece, by Robert de Visee, is also included.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Pour la Violle et le Theorbe (tous les reyes du monde)
To the Public
For the past seven years the public has done us the honour of buying our recordings; in return we should like to dedicate this work to them. We trust that they will be kind enough to realize that the cure we have taken in producing this recording has been for the sole purpose of pleasing them, inspiring them and enriching their lives. May the pieces we have chosen convince the public that we have neglected nothing in striving to be worthy of the goodwill with which they have ever favoured us, so that our gratitude may be patent to all.
This is the style in which Marin Marais dedicated all his published works: to the people who made it possible for him to become one of the greatest musicians of his time. He was certainly one of the most fantastic gamba virtuosos ever, and an influential public figure who participated in the development of the arts: he dedicated his books to his employers, his fellow musicians and the public who bought those books.
This can show you that it is also your decision, as an audience of the 21st century to decide, what the essence of life could be beyond your everyday work and television. The question that poses itself over and over in this day is, how do we manage to keep a cultural diversity alive and thriving, how do we succeed in providing inspiration and material to dream about for those who are willing to explore and be touched in unexpected ways that go beyond the multimedia mainstream that is forced upon us everywhere we go in this world. Here are some of the reasons why we have chosen to offer you this music. Throughout its history the gamba had a fascination for the human ear, because it was said that it, of all instruments, would most resemble the human voice, playing its 'jeux de melodie' and 'jeux d'harmonie' in the treble register and in the bass:
Marin Mersenne in Harmonie Universelle 1636-37
"It is certain that if the instruments are taken in proportion that they best imitate the voice, and if of all the artifices one esteems most that which best represents the natural, it seems that one must not refuse the prize to the viol, which imitates the voice in all its modulations and its main shades, in both sadness and joy. For the bow which produces the effect of which we have spoken has a bowing almost long enough to be close to the ordinary breath of the voice, the joy of which it can imitate, the sadness, the agility, the sweetness, and the strength through its vivacity, its languor, its speed, its solace and succour..."
Or, later, De Machy in his Pieces de Violle, 1685
"The voice is the model for all instruments and the Viola da Gamba is the one that imitates it best" The other two words that were used often to describe the sound of the viol are tenderness and brilliancy; two features no other instrument can be associated with so strongly. Danoville writes about the students of Sainte Colombe of which Marais was the most prominent:
"...they can draw a tone so tender, so brilliant which agreeably surprises the ear."
The combination of a viol with a theorboe also has a long tradition; no other instrument can, in its dynamic variety, accompany a viol in a more adequate way. Historically it was not uncommon for musicians to play both instruments. Prior to Marais' prime time, after Louis Couperin's early death in 1661, the position of the viol player to the King of France was divided between Sebastien le Camus and Nicholas Hotman. The latter was said to have taught Marin Marais, even though this might have been the case only until Marais was seven years old, since Hotman had died by then. Hotman and Camus were both theorbists as well as gamba players. It is surprising, in a way, that the only work by Marais we have that is entitled 'pour la violle et le theorbe' is not to be found anywhere amongst the 596 pieces that Marais published in the five volumes of 'pieces de viole' between the years 1686 and 1725, but we find it amongst the compilation of pieces in the socalled 'Panmure Collection' in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. The history of that specific MS which contains a lot of pieces by Marais that were later published in one of the five books, mostly in slightly altered and completed versions, but also some 45 pieces obviously by Marais' hand that appear nowhere else, makes us want to know more about how this manuscript came to Scotland and why. fames and Harie Maule, second and third sons of the 2nd Earl of Panmure, went to France to further their education in the late 1670s. Both of them were musicians. Apparently, Harie was |! the one to play the viol and the more serious | of the two; he went to study with Marais and copied a lot of the music Marais was already circulating, quite a long time before he had the means to publish the pieces. The Maules were already back in Scotland at the latest by 1680, by 1685 the material was already listed in a library catalogue: quite a bit before the publication of the Marais book took place in 1686: here we have quasi 'unauthorized' copies of material that was later published in a more finished version.
For a performer of the 21st century, several facts about this manuscript are interesting:
1. It shows us how Marais developed his own compositions before he saw fit to publish them; in other words, there are different, if only slightly, versions of pieces we know and have so far considered to be the 'original' versions. From this we can see that no matter how refined the style of putting music into little black dots on a piece of paper, it is always up to the performer to make it sound like something; which gives us a certain liberty when turning the black dots into actual music, as heard on this CD.
2. The Scottish manuscript does not provide a basso continuo, which indicates that a lot of it might have been played without any accompaniment at all, or was accompanied by an improvised bass line. This does not pose a problem for the pieces that were published later: one can use the bass line of those to accompany the earlier versions of the pieces. Marais himself indicates in the basso continuo book for the 'Pieces a une et deux Violes' (that appeared three years after the publication of the viol part) that technical problems at press had delayed the publication. He also points out that he added a few extra pieces to comply with the urging of 'foreigners' who were in need of them.
At this point we want to give thanks to our friend and colleague Jonathan Dunford, who has done extensive research into the viol music of the French viol composers Sainte Colombe and Marais, and who first sent us the Scottish manuscript in the early 1990s, asking Lee to provide a bass line for the different earlier Folias variations that are to be found in this manuscript. This is the version you can hear on this CD.
We decided to couple these Folias with the other singular movements 'Prelude pour la violle et le theorbe' and 'La bagatelle' for which Lee also came up with the bass lines. ' The Suite in D-major is a mixture of the version we found in the Scottish MS and published by Marais in 1686/89. Here we played around with the material until it became a Hille/Lee version, the g-minor Prelude is also found in the Scottish MS as well as the first book, the rest of the suite is published in the Troisieme Livre (1711).
The famous theorbist Robert de Visee, the same age as Marais, also a viol player and colleague of his in the service of Louis XIV as a chamber musician, was bound to have played together with Marais, perhaps so frequently that no actual mention of this is found in the sources. That he certainly admired Marais and in no way held any grudges against him is shown by the fact that he used material from Marais' operas, as in the 'Air de Matelot' which he turned into a lute piece, the original version of this is to be found in Marais' opera Alcyone.
A very unusual piece by Marais, which we also only find in the Continuo book (1689) that he wrote to comply with the 'foreigners demands', is the 'Sujet diversitez', a series of variations 'upon a ground'. This unique style was the fashion in the British Isles for a gamba player to show off his viruosity, at best 'ex tempore', improvised, as had been proclaimed by such vitruosos as Henry Butler and Christopher Simpson earlier in the century. It makes us wonder if Marais could have possibly been inspired by his pupil Harie Maule, to come up with such a set of variations to show that he also was accomplished 'in the foreign taste'.
hp, Winkelsett, 6.2.2004