Recording Date and Place : Febrero 2003 n la Colegiata del Castell de Cardona (Catalunya)
Jordi Savall, basse de viole a sept cordes de Barak Norman (London 1697)
Jean-Pierre Marielle, recitant
While the name of Sainte Colombe the Elder is familiar to music lovers - thanks to his having been resurrected by Tous les matins du Monde and the vast repertoire recorded by Jordi Savall -, biographical details concerning his son are very few and far between. We pick up the trail of Sainte Colombe the Younger (circa 1660-1720?) in England, where he took up residence, no doubt following the death of his father, in 1701; he taught the violin in Edinburgh in 1707 and on 14 May, 1713, he gave a concert in London.
Described as "having insufficient imagination to lie", Sainte Colombe the Younger was nevertheless a brilliant composer. He was undeniably influenced by his father, not only in his composition, but also in his instrumental technique and, notably, his skill at improvisation. A large number of his pieces for the viol, including the manuscript of Six Suittes pour Basse de Viole seule, are held in Durham Cathedral Library. In formal terms, it would appear that, contrary to the practice of his father, Sainte Colombe the Younger arranged his pieces into suites. Moreover, in contrast to the French musical conventions of the period, he did not give fanciful titles to his dance suites. Nevertheless, in his compositions for unaccompanied solo violin he followed in the time-hallowed tradition of the great masters of the viol, at a time when contemporary tastes were evolving towards pieces with accompaniment, as exemplified in the suites by Marin Marais.
The Suittes constitute a priceless testimony to an exceptional musician and violist. The grace and beauty of all these pieces reveal an astonishing world full of emotion and tenderness, of fantasy and enchantment, of pain and joy. The Tombeau pour Mr. de Sainte Colombe le Pere which concludes the six suites is one of the most remarkable pieces ever written for the viol. The austere yet unfailingly eloquent art of Sainte Colombe the Younger in some respects foreshadows both the instrumental language and the expressive dimension of J.S. Bach's Six Suites.
This presentation box is a double first. To begin with, it is the first time that Sainte Colombe the Younger's Six Suites have been brought together in a single recording. Moreover, although Jordi Savall has previously recorded a number of extracts from Sainte Colombe the Younger - in Tous les matins du monde (AV9821) and Les Voix Humaines (AV9803) -, the present recording is his first monographic recording devoted to music composed by the son of the great master... Marking the fifth anniversary of Alia Vox, it is a supreme and undeniable pleasure to experience Jordi Savall, with the participation of Jean-Pierre Marielle, performing a repertoire in which he, too, is the master!
Sainte-Colombe the Younger
Although the Sainte-Colombe family are victims of their own discretion (despite patient research, doubt still hangs over what information has been found), they have left behind some admirable pieces of music, all in manuscript form, which have come to light in recent years.
For ever immortalised by Jean-Pierre Marielle in the film Tous les Matins du Monde (All the Mornings of the World), Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe was perhaps not quite as we think he was. As for Sainte-Colombe the Younger, his trail has recently been picked up... in England.
As far as we know to date, it seems that the family came from south-west France. The father's Christian name was Jean and he appears to have spent most of his life in Paris. After studying with Nicolas Hotman, he in turn taught various pupils: Pierre Meliton, Jean Desfontaines, Jean Rousseau (whose Traite de la viole was dedicated to him in 1687), Danoville (who, in his Art de toucher les dessus et la basse de viole, also published in 1687, described his master as the "Orpheus of his age"). Most distinguished of all his pupils was Marin Marais, of whom Titon du Tillet, in his Parnasse Francois of 1732, recounted this wonderful story: Sainte-Colombe, "realising after six months that his pupil might well surpass him, told him that there was nothing more he could teach him. However, Marais, who was passionately interested in the viol, was anxious to learn from his master and perfect his own technique in that instrument; since he had leave to come and go at his master's house, he spent his time there during the summer, when Sainte-Colombe would lock himself away in a small wooden hut that he had built in the branches of a mulberry tree to play the viol undisturbed and to his heart's content. Marais would slip under the hut, and there he would listen to his master, committing to memory some of the passages and particular bowing secrets that the masters of the art like to keep to themselves. This was not to last long, however, for Sainte-Colombe got wind of what was happening and took steps to avoid being further overheard by his pupil". This text tends to illustrate the musician's great simplicity - one might even say a certain asceticism - in spite of the admiration that surrounded him. This reserve may have something to do with Sainte-Colombe's links with Protestantism, as witnessed by his association with Etienne Bourdet (a naval commander who was stripped of his command in the Marine de Ponant at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685), and also by a note found in the Haag manuscript (civil register of the Protestants of the church of Charenton): "Colombe, whose religious conduct was highly suspect, 1700".
Titon du Tillet, to whom we owe the greater part of our information concerning Sainte-Colombe, mentions two of his daughters, who "played, one the treble viol and the other the bass viol, and together with their father formed a consort of three viols". These two daughters have been identified as Francoise and Brigitte and as having married into artistic Protestant families. However, Remond de Saint-Mard, in his Reflexions sur l'opera, is the only source for "a son of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe born out of wedlock, who lacked the necessary imagination to lie". Probably on account of his religious beliefs, this son settled in England, no doubt after having also studied with his famous father. The magnificent tombeau composed, like that of Marin Marais published in 1701, in Sainte-Colombe's memory, would appear to be a testimony and tribute to their relationship. Highly esteemed in his adoptive country, Sainte-Colombe the Younger became viol teacher to Miss Grisel Baillie in Edinburgh in 1707, and a concert was performed in his honour in London on 14 May, 1713.
The six suites for solo viol by Sainte-Colombe the Younger were found in the library of Durham Cathedral, in the north-east of England; they were copied at the beginning of the 18th century by Philip Falle, a canon of the cathedral. Also surviving in the same hand is a theological work signed by Pastor Henri Auger de Sainte-Colombe, from the Bearn region of France and undoubtedly a member of the same family as the musicians of that name.
The works of Sainte-Colombe the Younger belong more properly to the French tradition in viola da gamba music than to the English (the instrument was falling into disuse in England at that time), even though the composer uses the traditional six-string viol rather than the seven-string instrument customary in France, the seventh string being his father's own addition. Unlike his father, Sainte-Colombe the Younger composed for unaccompanied solo viol, in keeping with the changing tastes seen also in the work of Marais. Abandoning for good the pieces a titre cultivated by his father, Sainte-Colombe the Younger (except in the case of the Tombeau in the sixth suite) follows the classical order of dance suites as practised at the end of the 17th century, both in harpsichord and chamber music.
- Catherine Cessac
Jonathan Dunford: "Les musiciens francais anterieurs a Marin Marais (2)" in L'Echo de la viole, 4, 2000, pp. 2-3;
CorinneVaast: "Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe protestant?" in Bulletin de la Societe d'Histoire du Protestantisme Francais, July-September 1998, pp. 591-601;
"A propos de M. de Sainte-Colombe", ibid., January-March 1999, pp. 189-191.
If you've enjoyed Jordi Savall's previous two programs of music by Sainte Colombe the elder (Astree 7729 and 8743), this new Alia Vox offering of Six Suites for solo bass viol by the composer's son Sainte Colombe le Fils' (ca. 1660-1720?) also will delight. While there are stylistic similarities with his father's work, Sainte Colombe le Fils' suites are more straightforward and less programmatically allusive. For example, instead of the suggestive titles his father often used, the movements here are differentiated by the usual dance markings. However, like his father Sainte Colombe le Fils favors quieter, less-animated treatments of the dances, and save for the rather low-key gigues the meditative regularity rarely changes.
The final movement of the Sixth suite, Tombeau pour Mons. de Sainte Colombe le pere, composed in memory of the composer's recently deceased father, promises to be the most inspired moment of the set since it also features speaker Jean-Pierre Marielle (who performed the role of Sainte Colombe in the movie Tous les matins du monde). A few composers during this period imaginatively and effectively integrated the role of speaker into their works (notably, Francois Couperin in D'Apotheose de Lully and Marais in his notorious Le Tableau de l'Operation de la Taille), though all Marielle does here is quietly announce the complete title at the beginning and in three inner movements-Passage du Styx, dernier Adieu, and desespoir.
Alia Vox's sound is up-front and close, capturing all the resonance and percussive detail of Savall's seven-string period instrument. The sumptuous presentation typical of Alia Vox is superb, as are the informative and engaging notes by Savall and Catherine Cessac. This is recommended to those tireless, sensitive few listeners (this reviewer included) charmed by chamber music of this period regardless of its simplicity and austerity.
-John Greene (www.classicstoday.com/review.asp?ReviewNum=7213)