Viola da Gamba: Bass viol solo – Jean Nicolas Geoffroy, Rondeau in Dmin

April 27, 2009

Geoffroy, Pieces de clavessin. Les Cahiers du Tourdion, Strasbourg. 9331. 154 pages.

The keyboard player in me loves the Tourdion edition of this obscure composer’s pieces de clavecin, Paris c1655-1670. It is an important addition to the repertoire, alongside Jacquet de la Geurre, Louis Couperin, Chambonnieres and others. It’s a literal hand-written copy from a manuscript in the French National Library and includes works for viols, including an extremely unusual dialogue between harpsichord and treble viols – a musical form I’ve not struck before with this instrumentation. Geoffroy presents all the major and minor keys, so they’re useful from that point of view as well. Since its publication, there’s been a facs edition published by Broude and the work has been analysed by academics, particularly the interesting harmonies involved.

I believe the viol music has been published separately by Fretwork since, but I like playing the simpler melody lines from these dance movements where they obviously don’t involve keyboard-specific runs or chords. The pieces de clavecin are arranged by key, so the ones in the most compatible keys like D minor are worth playing on viol.

The Rondeau on page 39 couldn’t be simpler. In fact, only La Jeune Fillette is simpler and as short. For me, it’s a beginner 7-sring viol piece, able to be accompanied by a 6-string bass. Work the full length of the bow; memorise it. Then move on to solos by Hotman (Dove House edition or the ones in Jonathon Dunford’s viol tutor) or the most basic of the Marais pieces de viole. A gamba player grounded in English consort music who wants to move into French music has to become intimately acquainted with the classic French dance forms, French inegal and French ornament – these by Geoffroy are one way of doing that.

Geoffroy is no Louis Couperin, so it’s unlikely that his keyboard pieces will ever be arranged for consort viols, as Louis Couperin’s F minor Pavan was arranged and recorded by Charivari Agreable.

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