On Henry DuMont

December 26, 2009

I’m as crazy about French consort music as anything composed by the Brits. I know that’s a sacrilgeous, blasphemous thing to say.

Along with Moulinie, Geoffroy and LeJeune is Henry Dumont. For me, LeJeune represents the first half of the century and DuMont the middle. Solo gamba music is a thing of its own making, with Maugars, Hotman, DuBuisson in the lead up to Louis Couperin and Marin Marais. Basically, DuMont moved into Paris from Flanders in 1640 adn stayed till his death in 1684. Somewhat unusually his music was printed in the middle of his life, not at the end. I can’t think of too many other French composers who managed this, the idea being that you relied on circulation of manuscript copies during most of their life.

I can’t pick up major stylistic differences between the different published collections, though to be honest not much time had passed between the Cantica Sacra of 1652 and the Motets of 1668. I’d like to point to the fact that the later ones feature reduced scores as written-out continuo parts (i.e. they operate as stand-alone keyboard dances), but they range across all three collections. Obviously as a life-long churchman (St Paul’s in Paris), the organ works well with them; for the salon, the harpsichord or lute works equally well. He seems to have liked to add a tenor viol (as well as getting the bass to tune the bottom string to C instead of D) for the ‘serious’ Allemandes, where Allemanda gravis is differentiated from a less heavy Allemanda (never Allemandes). He’s big on two trebles with bass, a subtle shift away from the treble-tenor-bass instruments used in earlier consort music without continuo.

Dove House Editions Canada have published ten of the dance movements: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668. I’ve long been very attached to a particular recording of Henri DuMont’s viol music by Arianne Maurette’s group, where they are interspersed with other viol music, but am paying attention to another by Les Talens Lyriques under Christopher Rousset, Henri Dumont: Motets en dialogue. Here the focus is on vocals and organ, with viol music as a respite. You feel as if you’re sitting through an extended church service in a dark, candle-lit Parisian church on a rainy Sunday.

The sound focuses on a strong contrast between the slow and the haunting with the fast and gayement. The contrasts exist in individual sections of the dances, so while they’re nominally Allemandes and Pavanes, they take on a much more Italian fast-slow-fast character, something also exploited in Henry Purcell’s consorts of the same period where he adds tempi markings such as Drag. So the dances can start at a surprisingly slow pace until you startled by a fast section. Playing standard English pavans, with one reasonably stepping-out tempo throughout, is therefore at odds with the brooding, haunting starts of DuMont’s. There is nothing brashly violinistic in the playing – this is French music and not Italian, after all.

Track 3, Symphonia a trois is No.2 in Coeyman (1652; trtrB), the first 20 bars (repeated) are played very slowly and tentatively. The 2nd section (no tempo markings) is fast and frothy and Italian, with a return to the Slow in the last six bars.

Track 7,  Pavan a 3 (1657; trtrB) is taken a tad faster than the Symphonia, a lot slower than we would play an English fantasy or an English pavan. Unlike the English Pavan with its three sections of increasing complexity musically (so you end up feeling exhausted by the end of the repeat of the third section), the second and third movements here feature contrasts between Lentement and Gayement phrases (tempo marks being specified). The whole thing ends up taking Rousset some 6mins 35secs.

Track  8, Sarabande a3 (1657; trtrB) is not in the Coeymans collection.

Henry Dumont (1660-1684). Motets en dialogues. Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset dir. CD. FNAC Music, 1992. WM 334 5920988. Florence Malgloire and Alain Petits play treble viols and Kaori Uemura plays bass.

Henry DuMont: The Symphonias, Pavanes and Allemandes for three or four Viols (other strings, recorders, winds) and Bass Continuo from his collections of 1652, 1657 & 1668.  Edited by Barbara Coeyman. Dove House Editions, Canada, Viola da gamba series no.39. 1990.

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