A Marais a day: Book II, Bourasque 5

July 7, 2011

Now for a complete change of mood and another piece de viole which is “off the beaten track”, designed in part to provide awareness and understanding of the Marais pieces beyond the oft-recorded.

“Bourasque” is certainly not a traditional dance movement associated with the conventional Suite. In contemporary French, “bourrasque”can be translated into English as blustery or squally or gusty when it refers to wind, or a flurry when it refers to snow. Scattered among Marin Marais’ pieces de viole, you’ll come across short single movements, not in the unusual binary style that one gets used to in Marais, which are divorced from the standard dance Suite (Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue, etc.) but which also bear non-descriptive titles which we would other associate with character-pieces or pieces de caractere. They bear such “non-descript” titles as Fantaisie, Caprice or Suitte. In the case of Bourasque we meet, predictably, flurries of quavers, long runs of notes, presumably played fast and short. 

In some respects, this Bourasque suggests the interest shown by composers of opera in including musical moments recalling storms, at sea or on land. Such music is strongly evident in the operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau who was busy several decades after this piece published by Marais. The long sustained bass notes evident in Rameau are at play here in this Marais piece. There is a storm scene in Act III Scene 4 of Marais’ own opera Alcyone of 1705, with Book II was published only four years before in 1701; of course he’d been involved in the opera orchestra in Paris since 1675 or 1676 or so. His later opera, Semele, was famous for its earthquake scene, so convincingly recreating sounds in Nature are important to Marin Marais.

In terms of breaking up the piece into its structural elements for practice purposes, it becomes obvious that Marais relies heavily on figures repeated at the top and bottom of the instrument’s range and of course groups of notes used in modulating sequences. This is evident also in the Alcyone storm scene. In addition here, Marais can’t resist including at least one super-fast run towards the end of this piece (we get used to this in Marais!) 

The technical virtuosity of the runs makes redundant any need for the ornamentation which marks the soloist’s part elsewhere. I guess the virtuosity resides in playing everything as quickly as possible, with judicious use of volume and timing to create the required sense of drama. The fact that it’s in Dmin means the natural resonance of the bass D instrument plays its part. The only sense of ‘normality’ comes in the cadences when one literally regains one’s breath; the wide leaps involved in the second section will ultimately determine the overall tempo the soloist can manage. Jerome Hantai, in his two-disc recording (Virgin Classics 932132) of Marais’ pieces, plays this whirlwind Bourasque in 36 seconds. It’s also been put to disc by Sara Ruiz Martinez (Marais: La Voix de la Voile. La Bellemont ensemble, Brilliant Classics 93806).

I haven’t yet leafed through all my Marais to locate other use by him of the term “bourasque”, but will be on the lookout for its use by Marais and others.

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