Viola da Gamba: Bass solo – Marin Marais, La Biscayenne

April 26, 2009

Marin Marais, Book IV (1717)

Marin Marais, Musique pour la viole. Charivari Agreable. Gaudeamus CD GAU 152. 1996. Track 10: La Biscayenne, 1min14secs. Susanne Heinrich, bass viol; Lynda Sayce, baroque guitar,Kah-Ming Ng, chamber organ.

So nearly half this book is a rambling bunch of pieces, often in uncommon keys and with titles reflecting the bizarre or unusual – hence the over-arching name of Suite d’un Gout Etranger. The CD liner notes make the interesting observation that this sense of foreigness included anything non-Parisian in taste or style. La Biscayenne – Bay of Biscay – reflects this disdain for the provincial, power now having been well and truly been established in Versailles for a generation; the countryside was where anyone at court was banished if they fell out of favour. For me, this Book represents the last of the great viol music while Louis XIV was alive; after this, it stays on for a bit – in Book 5 and in Forqueray’s music –  but the mourning veils cast a very long shadow. The sun is starting to set from hereon in.

La Biscayenne is. along with two of my other favourites, Rondeau Le Bijou  and L’Uniforme, grouped under the banner of a suite with Emin/Gmajor in common. The use of an organ and guitar in the interpretation by Charivari Agreable add to the jaunty country feel of this slight piece, full of off-rhythms. There is a lot of moral indignation here in the organ and smirking by the viol. It’s a slight piece, made up of several short, four-bar phrases, each rhetorically forming a single question-and-answer. And how much other viol music can you find in E minor? Not much.

The form is AABBCCDD – several opinions on the matter at hand are expressed, nearly all closely modelled on descending half-octave scale runs in Eminor. The first section is typical: basically the structure is minums of the Emin arpeggio – top E then B, G, repeat E, B G and E.  Proceed then to break up these minums into their requisite smaller note values; practise Emin descending scale, with slurs and inegal. Heinrich plays the slurred notes in a bouncy way and doesn’t make too much at all of the mordents at the end of each question-and-answer initially but these become more obvious in section C and disdainful in the final D with its clever suggestion of a musette in the two repeatd double-stops incorporating the ‘grounding’ E. The final chord is a delicately placed “I-told-you-so” – sounding a bit longer than it would on a harpsichord: the opinion of the court is final in its dismissiveness.

Marais as usual is very clear about what notes he wants played on what strings and whether he wants a push or pull bow on particular notes.


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