Viola da Gamba: bass solo, Hotman Suite no.2

May 2, 2009

Nicholas Hotman (?-1663) Three Suites (c.1660) for bass viol. Dove House Editions Canada, edited by Donald Beecher. Viola da gamba series no.47

Hotman was the leading figure of the Frenchviol school between the early part of the 17th century (Maugars) and the late (Ste-Colombe and Marais). The overall effect of these dance suites unaccompanied bass viol solos is of elegant simplicity; Ste-Colombe by contrast seems to explore a more programmatic, flexible and free-form approach. The presence of the gigue movements put these particular suites suggest they were written late in his career – we know he died in April 1663. His works form an incredibly important insight into bass viol music of this period, since none survives of his teacher Maugars and alongside those of Dubuisson and Sieur DeMachy, this is all we have prior to Ste-Colombe’s works for two bass viols and work composed for the newly-added seventh A string; Louis Couperin and Jean Nicholas Geoffroy tell us a good deal about the treble viol of roughly the same period.

Suite II – Ballet, Allemande, Courante wth 2 variations, Sarabande with variation, Gigue. Key of D minor. The second Suite comes from a manuscript in Poland (like the third); the first comes from Oxford. Both second and third suites start with a very simple Ballet movement – something of a warm-up prelude before the formal dance suite proper. No 2 starts with a theme so English it could have been composed by Tobias Hume and seems to have been in fact ascribed to Hugh Facie – the first movement of a suite entitled Skolding Wife. Some ‘trills’  – a single ornament sign in the manuscript – are specified and there are chords at cadences; mostly in bass clef with moves into alto. The Ballet is in an ABC form, where A and B are just four bars each and C is 8. Beautiful variations follow – elegant rather than dazzling. Great for string-crossing and clef-reading; something of a blessed relief from the highly-wrought lyra work from England and the virtuosic division-playing of the times.  A particularly beautiful Sarabande – noble without being dramatic. Once the Ballet and Sarabande are established, the remaining trickier movements fall into place (the Courante with its double-stops and the fast tempo of the Allemande and Gigue), given the thematic similarity and continuity. Incredibly subtle music. Compare and contrast with Hume’s solo dance movements for their brevity and with Dubuisson for more of the French artlessness. 

Brilliantly played by Sophie Watillon on her recording of several of the suites. A Russian viol player has recorded a different Ballet movement on YouTube.



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