I get the feeling that many of the shortest, least difficult pieces of Marais’ are “fillers”: moments of almost frivolous rest and relief for both musicians and audience between pieces of much greater gravitas and much more earnest intent.

This is confirmed by this village dance (and the following three Minuets) are small beer prior to Les Voix humaines. This ‘villageoise” joins with muzettes and other, similar pieces by Marais, pointing to a contrasting mix of the urban and the pastoral which lies at the heart of Marais’ music. What I find interesting is the way (perhaps starting with Ste-Colombe?) dances of this type, outside the norms established with the standard dance suite, enter into the gamba’s repertoire: we don’t find such dances in the works of (harpsichord) composers in Paris of the 1650s. Some additional dances seem to be exploiting unusual rhythms which composers find attractive; others seem to be aiming for “sophisticated” instruments, such as the gamba, trying to imitate the timbre of folk instruments. The other agenda at play has to do with the pointing up the distance that courtiers have come from their estates, locked up in Versailles by their master and king. There has be, it seems, a measure of nostalgia for their regional birthplaces, for those estates where they were number one. Hanging over many courtiers must have been the return to their estates, social and cultural exile, if they failed to live up expectations at court. The context, then, for these village dances is more complex than first appears.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Musically, these are very slim pickings; they represent almost a regression, compared to more interesting dance movements written half a century earlier by harpsichord composers. But they show Marais’ attention to craftsmanship and their musical interest resides in the fact that they are written for gamba and not for solo harpsichord, so we shouldn’t compare perhaps.

I suspect then that gamba technique is at the centre of these ‘fillers’. The two short sections here point to something of a teaching piece (short enough to get the technical point across, but not so long as to disincentivate the student) – the focus of the second section is the treatment of the slurs; the focus of the first is the octave leaps. Rusticity can be emphasised with a solo guitar continuo. In wanting to emphasise the rustic, the soloist can’t “sit” on the lower notes of the octave leaps – a subtle combination of a resonant thump and a light enough bow to leap back up to the top strings!

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.

Another in a series of Marin Marais’ pieces de viole, with the idea of making some headway with the 500+ pieces spread across five books (not counting the Pieces de trio, La Gamme, Sonata a la Maresienne and sundry others). I leave professional players and very gifted amateurs to tackle the oft-recorded and best known (and most brilliant) of the pieces; by contrast, I toy instead with those that haven’t been recorded (to my knowledge) and those which are among the simplest technically. Just because they haven’t been recorded doesn’t mean they are worthless.  

This sarabande comes from a Suite in D in the middle of Book II. Beginners to Marais range around between minuets, preludes and sarabandes before tackling allemandes, courantes, other dances and character pieces. The title suggests great emotion, but it’s important to keep the tempo moving and become slow that the trajectory of the melody loses momentum. It’s inevitable in sarabandes that double stops and chords occur, but I’ve been careful to find a relatively simple sarabande that keeps these under control. Top B and C appear from time to time – the melody falls almost all entirely with the stave otherwise, from A (open second string)  to the top A of the top string. As to character, “desolee” was used again by Marais in the title of a passacaille from the Pieces en trio; this one retains a certain sweetness, a certain dignity-in-suffering, rather than anything too lugubrious, because it’s kept fairly tightly at all times within the major key.

Marais provides fingering. My music printing software isn’t up to Marais’ ornaments – I mean my little transcriptions to lead the Reader to consult original sources. Physically, I try to incorporate the ornaments as soon as possible after getting a grasp of the notes and bowing; they are integral to the ‘vocal’ quality of the melody, not some sort of “add on”. While this sarabande appears not to plumb any great emotions, the ornaments are the vehicle for any emotional interest and sensitivity on the part of the player. Given the lack of other technical demands, this is probably a very good exercise in bowing ornaments of the period to the proper degree of taste required.

I understand the fabulous Mieneke van der Velden may have recorded this in 2010 on her album, “Images”, devoted to Marin Marai’s ‘pieces de caractere’.


4 July 2011.

My bass viol and I reacquainted ourselves yesterday after a very long absence. Recently I had the opportunity to read Pascal Quignard’s Tous les matins du monde in a single day and am now re-reading it with James Kirkup’s translation to hand. So as well as relishing some of the slower movements of Domenico Scarlatti keyboard sonatas (for example, K.208 played both by Robert Hill on fortepiano and Fou Ts’ong on pianoforte) and noting Pert Wagner’s recent recording of the suites of Roland Marais, my mind turns to Marin Marais. 

My gamba is strung fairly lightly and stays in tune for long periods of time, which is a blessing. It takes relatively to get things up and running: there’s a haughtiness about my seven-string viol. He reproaches me by saying, “Well, where have you been? Not so hard to get a decent sound going, eh? Why do you persist in ignoring me for so long?”

My muscle memory is not the best, since I usually play my smaller 6-string bass, so I know I need to work at string-crossing. The other main thing I need to keep aware of is to keep the instrument up high on my calves in order to get appropriate clearance of the top string. I know the 41cm body length is too big for me, but at least the instrument isn’t heavy.

Yesterday I sawed my way through some very simple Louis Caix D’Hervelois suite movements, La Chailly from his Book V in particular.

I thought though that since I want to develop some momentum again with my seven-string bass, I need to stick to some sort of plan. So I’m going to see how I go concentratating on just one Marais piece de viole a day.    

Today’s was a simple minuet from Book II. There are, believe it or not, a couple of Marais suite movements which fit entirely on the stave, with just one note moving to top A, a ledger line above. This, of course, for Marais, is rare, since the whole raison-d’etre of his music is to exploit the top string, the chanterelle. You get the feeling that if Marais were to lose all the lower strings except the top one, he’d still be perfectly happy. Yes, he will exploit lower strings for the effects created by wide leaps and for chords, but creating a melody across all top three strings is still relatively rare.

I’ve here transcribed it for a Chere Collegue who only reads bass clef. By rights, anyone tackling Marais has to be able to read more than just one bass clef, but my Chere Collegue never plays French repertoire normally and possesses a six-string.  If I create enough of these pieces in a clef she can play, preferably as both soloist and continuo bass, I might be able to get some duet playing going. But I won’t get ahead of myself!

To keep things easy, I’ve omitted here the ornaments which Marais but have included the slurs. The slurs obviously require extensive use of the fourth finger which both strengthens the hand in terms of reaching the top fret as well as preventing string-crossing. Integral to the character of Marais’ sound is the ‘integrity’ of staying on the one string to the max, with almost an aversion to moving to another.  The first section is played on the second and third strings only. After this simple statement, he creates interest by moving to the top string. In terms of bowing, it’s a simple alternating between a push and a pull bow in each bar.

Once the hand is strong and the extensions sure, then the simple mordent ornaments can be added. We know the minuet is taken at a fairly fast speed, with much more a count of one to the bar rather than three, so it’s important for the tempo not to be laboured from the start. Where still in the late 1600s and Louis XIV’s death is a good fifteen or so years away. I mention that because it’s suspected that the menuet may have begun to slow down during the reign of Louis XV, when everyone was sitting around in mourning for years on end and things were no longer very lively on the dance floor. In part because they were in mourning for a king who danced, un roi qui dansait, but also because a great era had now passed and gloom and shadows are a natural consequence of any extended period of radiant sunshine.

So what’s the context of this minuet? Book II of 1701 is of course better known for the Folia variations, Les Voix humaines, the Tombeau pour Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe and a similar Tombeau for Lully. In a total of 142 separate suite movements, these are the big stand-outs, much vaunted and much recorded. The rest are your normal Suites.  in otherwise a total of 142 separate suite movements. But Marais, in the final pages, pp.131-150, has given us a long Suite in A major. After some technically demanding movements, he admits a much simpler Gavotte, two Menuets and a Bransle de Village, before launching into an demanding Echo,a Rondeau moitie pince and an extended Fantaisie. Worth noting, from a Marais Beginner’s perspective are not just the two Menuets and Bransle de Village, but also #140 which is an Air en Vaudeville. As short as any two-section Minuet, it does however provide an ornamented version of the whole thing (le mesme avec ses agremens) which provides an insight into a how an advanced player of the time would turn a simple, straight-forward tune into something much more elegant. Marais goes a step further by adding a Double, a variation in a flowing style, with endless runs of four quavers to a bow.

An extension of today’s Menuet, and useful in terms of working in the key of A major (which is far from the norm in conventional consort playing and worth getting the hang of) is #137 Menuet, #138 Bransle de Village (note the bizarre tripping notes in the second section!) and #140 Air en Vaudeville,

I checked out viola da gamba videos on YouTube today and was very impressed with Fahmi Alqhai (Accademia del Piacere, July 2007, Aracena) who plays the  Sarabande grave from Book III, no. 99. among others. I was also impressed by the amateurs who’ve committed themselves (or been thrown in by family and friends) to being recorded. Seeing Ben Torrey work incredible magic with scores and video clips (as well as the very sophisticed Eric Stolz’ versions of Marais and others with the score projected PowerPoint-like as he plays) makes me want to find out more about recording videos of what I do.  What I really appreciate about the Stolz videos is that you can clearly see his left hand at work. I came upon the only YouTube video of a Burgksteiner baryton trio the other day to be somewhat disappointed by the fact that a music stand completely covered up the baryton instrument! Unlike Ben and others I don’t perform publicly (the drive towards performance being such a necessary dynamic in music-making); I don’t even memorise ‘party pieces’ for family occasions. Blogging has provided an important personal direction, complementing the odd consort session. The amateur playing on YouTube points up the importance of recording oneself for the aural feedback – something I need to move towards, starting at least with a minidisc player.

I’m inclined to re-read Siblin quite soon. First time through, I read it without stopping to listen to each of the movements of the Suites. It ended up rounding out my knowledge of Bach in the same way that last semester’s uni work rounded out my knowledge of music 1600-2000, from Monteverdi to Reich. Siblin has led me to view today Casals, Dupres, Ma, Rostropovich, Maisky and Tortelier playing the Prelude from Bach Cello Suite 1. Different pauses between phrases and gaps between notes attract me about each of them. I’ve forgotten the technical term, but there is word that describes this endless circular motion in Bach’s music representing the endless human condition; this is the dynamo behind the first section of the Gmaj Prelude and gamba players find it all the time, from the earliest Divisions through Marais, Roland Marais and Abel (Nima Ben David’s YouTube videos).  This dynamo is different in each individual – linked to chi if you want to see it from a Chinese perspective – so the tempi employed will vary and that doesn’t faze me. The partisanship involved in siding with any one particular interpretation seems very futile to me, as the YouTube comments attest.

I recall having messed around with this prelude on bass viol in the past and have dug out my Tortelier edition; it will be interesting to hear Pandolfo’s interpretation in due course.  See sinophysiker’s bass guitar version – a visual delight as much as a musical one. But today’s main event was Les Voix humaines, followed at the close of day by some more little work on the Manchester Gamba Book.

Les Voix humaines

The first surprise is how short the piece is, a single page. With repeats, Savall records it lasting 5mins 11secs and so one anticipates a piece several pages long. I find no clarity in this piece. There seems to be tumult and jangling at every step along the way when played en concert with bass continuo viol, theorbo and/or harpsichord. Theorbo players bring out their singularly unusual harmony. The only way cohersion and peace can be achieved is if it’s played by a single viol alone. Perhaps Marais is commenting on the nature of making chamber music. It’s not often he uses an abstract title like this, since names of people are more often used, either comments on an individual or a description of an individual or the suggestion of a dedicatee. Here, Marais unusually seems to be commenting on human life in a general sense.

My entire focus has been on the four-bar first section. I’m a little surprised how often Marais’ opening sections follow this four-bar model. You’d expect it in the Minuets, but it is in fact much more widespread than that and seems to be something peculiar to Marais.

The second surprise is that the solo part stays in the lower register of the bass viol, around the “middle” D of the instrument. What’s more, you stay on this fourth string almost all of the time! (Another irony, a piece about human voices but you stay on the one string!) Admittedly the second part goes straight to the top octave, above the frets, but the repeating figure of this rondo stays in the middle. And it is in rondo form. Learn the first four bars up to the first double-bar line and in fact you’ve learned just about a third of the piece. Admittedly, every time the A theme returns it is more or more elaborately ornamented.

In orienting myself I quickly abandoned my small division bass viol for the seven-string. The music is made for the seven-string bass. First step is to isolate the melody, see second stave. Starting on the third of the scale sounds awkward, but this is addressed in when it’s repeated later in the piece. The pared-down melody makes sense if it’s played fast initially. Free of all the encrusted ornamentation, you realise the first section is in two phrases, one “human voice” answering another. There is something odd going on here because the second responding voice, with its very strong, “final” cadential character, seems to “cut off” the first voice in mid-sentence. There is something “choked” about this opening phrase. Having reduced everything to dotted crochets, this would be an ideal time to get the bowing right; Marais specifies where to put some of the tirer/pull bows. The natural tendency is to throw in some inegal from the start, essentially double-dotting the crochets and I think that’s okay because you’re immediately getting used to the rhetorical flourish of the French style.

Then comes the rather startling observation that Marais has duplicated the continuo line in the solo part, creating a two-voice texture. I don’t know if Marais does this often – I suspect hardly at all. For two very inexperienced viol players, one could pare this down to a solo line and a bass accompaniment, without the two-voice texture in the solo part. Little wonder this piece de viole has been recorded on viol alone, and adapts itself to solo guitar and other instruments, for example. Why Marais would do this is beyond me. It must have something to do with showing off – surely the ultimate in jeu d’harmonie is to be playing the continuo line and solo line at the same time, when what one normally expects is casual and irregular double-stops to suggest harmony. Perhaps it was a teaching piece, designed to assist students understand the importance of the ringing long notes of the continuo – and what better way to teach the necessary listening skills by playing it oneself. There is the irony too of playing a piece about human voices on one instrument.

Next comes negotiating the fingering. Think third finger on D as the pivot point for just about everything else. There is an extension (see the marking ‘prep’) and Marais gives you time to get there. Basically the first double-stop is with the fourth and third fingers, with the first and section already holding down the C# and A, a tight closed lute-like fist. The only double-stop that defeats me is the D and B. Of course there’s a battle going on here between the melody and its ornaments and the holding down of the double-stop with other fingers. The aim of course is to maintain focus on the melody and add the second voice where one can.

My written-out version is becoming bigger than Ben Hur so one should start committing it to memory. Dunford suggests only writing on the score only those things which are absolutely essential and he’s right. With so many stopped notes, it’s important not to crash on the top open A string in bar 2. And I haven’t even begun to think consciously about which part of the bow best plays which note, or the several enfles (not in the published score but additions by a player in a score held in the Eastman Library and reproduced in the analysis by Sarah Cunningham in A Viola da Gamba Miscellany, Proceedings of the International Viola da Gamba Symposium Utrecht 1991). The enfle is explained by John Hsu in his book. Watching oneself in a mirror might help consolidate the length of bow stroke and where on the bow one plays what notes.

It’s taken me most of a day to get two bars reasonably coherent. Imagine being a professional gamba player, working alone in ‘the office’, spending hours at a time getting a trill or an ornament or a phrase right in this music, ready for public performance! A mammoth test of one’s raison-d’etre surely, but then is any other type of ‘work’ really very different from any other?  


Les Voix Humaines on Youtube

What set me off months ago about Les Voix humaines was the inclusion in alarob’s wordpress blog of a YouTube recording of this piece. There are others. In a video by Ensemble a Deux Violes Esgales, the first section is played by Thomas Dunford on theorbo alone as a warm-up. This first section is repeated with Sylvia Abramowicz playing the solo part over the theorbo. Johnathan Dunford enters at the start of the second section on the high C. A brilliant sense of the required drama is conveyed throughout. Patagonian gamba player, Horacio Bollini, has recorded a version for viol alone. F X Nicolet plays an excellent version on solo guitar, Louis XIV’s favourite instrument representing his most private self. Nicolet does a superb job also of Llobet’s El testament d’Amelia, by the way.





This Christmas week is all about being stood down from work because of the financial crisis. My workplace these last few weeks has also been riven by very bitter industrial relations disputes. Such incredible bile and vitriol, at a time when everyone talks of goodwill and peace to all men. So what better way to spend it than strew the house with gamba music and play. Playing the seven-string bass is particularly laborious, so I rest by looking at sheet music and listening to recordings. I’m somewhat appalled by how much sheet music I’ve accumulated over the years, a lot of it far beyond my technical ability. Fierce mid-summer heat has been replaced by the gentle fall of steady rain, leftovers from a typhoon on the other side of the continent. I ought instead to be learning the tenor line of the Chorus of Purcell’s Dido since that will be my focus next week, by way of a rural retreat with one of the country’s leading counter-tenors. While large chunks of 2010 will be ‘shut off’ with university study, I’d like to think I can spend time making small progress with both Marais and lyra/tab (Manchester Gamba Book). I notice Ben Torrey spends two hours, 4am-6am, before going off to work, on his music. I’m not sure if I can replicate that, especially since I was getting up at 3am to do my musicology uni study earlier this year. Though a couple of hours of “me” time does set one up nicely for the rest of the day, devoted as it is to satisfying the unending demands of others.



I finished reading Siblin’s splendid account of Bach’s cello suites today and have been thinking about the survival of music in manuscript and in printed copies from the period and the spotty history (so far) of the gamba in Germany. I’ve been privileged to watch the German repertoire come slowly into focus in recent decades. An entirely different situation in France where the published music of Couperin le grand and Marin Marais, because of their importance at a central, ‘national’ court, has survived. Marin Marais, notwithstanding his position at court alongside control-freak Lully, was able to spend half the year in Paris (August to December), teaching and composing. Little wonder then that over the decades, he managed to work at publishing 500+ pieces for basse de viole.

Marais rushed into print in 1685 with his Book I following DeMachy’s publication of solo bass viol music, the first in France. He had as much to say about the instrument, if not more, and what was the good of a position at court if he didn’t go into print? 1692 saw the publication of his trios, ostensibly for treble viols and bass viol. This music gets perilously close to the “outlawed” Italian style in many ways and while Italian chamber music circulated in manuscript composed by Couperin, presumably in Paris salons far from the court at Versailles, it wasn’t till very much later after the death of Louis XIV and Lully that Couperin felt it was okay to publish his Sonades. Meanwhile, Marais’ Book II (1701) catered for bass viol playing experts in his midst. I’m a bit dubious about the extent to which it catered for le style galant (something I associate with music composed very much later), but he certainly sought to acknowledge Italian influence with inclusion of La Follia while clothing it so extensively that it became thoroughly Frenchified. Musically it was impossible to ignore the Italians, politically and in terms of survival in an employment sense, it was too dangerous. 

In the following decade, his success hitherto had obviously created a new, wider audience of viol playing amateurs of lesser skill, so in 1711, his Book III catered to those with a less than virtuosic handle on the instrument. Within the next six-year period, he had to balance the demands of the virtuosi alongside those of the less skillful, so his 1717 collection, Book IV, caters for both. The first part (Pieces 1-54) are for those of moderate skill, as is the third part. These are bookends around a group of character pieces, as far away from the standard French suite of dances as you could get.  They remind me of Couperin’s free pieces de caractere for harpsichord and Marais creates the grab-bag title for them, Suitte d’un gout Etranger. By “etranger” he doesn’t mean Italian, just anything that was outre by Parisian standards of the time. These are the fantastical character pieces familiar to us since the 1991 film, Tous les matins du monde, and the Savall recordings. All professional viol players feel duty bound to perform and record these pieces now and the titles of these masterworks have become synonymous with the instrument itself: Labyrinthe, Arabesque, Reveuse, Badinage.

In the city of 4million where I live, I’m aware of no more than five or six Marais fanatics. Most of them are professionals. Why would amateur viol players tackle Marais? For the same reason amateur piano players add a few waltzes, noctures or mazurkas of Chopin to their own repertoire. Not all piano players will be up to the technical demands of the Etudes or the Ballades, but most will start with the Minute Waltz and proceed as far as they can from there. Only a fraction of viol players will ever play very many of the 500+ pieces de viole, but for those mad about the period, mad about the particular instrument, mad about the sound and style, they will add a small number to their gamba experience. I’m not concerned about the fact that I may never play more than a dozen or two of these pieces in my lifetime. Playing a handful does allow me enormous scope to listen critically to live performances of those behind my own technical level. Some argue that time is better spent on consort music, but that presupposes ready access to other players of similar ability. I have to admit Marais really does require accompaniment – a harpsichord or lutenist and/or another bass viol with the extra 7th string. I’m sure the lyra viol repertoire transports the solo amateur viol player back to England of the C17 as much as Marais transports one back to the late C17/early C18. This modernist fashion for early music is, at its heart, all about fleeing from the current, everyday world and taking refuge in another.

Book IV (1717)

This book is famous for its virtuoso pieces, as recorded by gamba professionals. But there is a contrasting third, final section of the book devoted to two suites for three bass viols, the first in D Major and the second in D Minor. In his foreward, Marais indicates this is the first time anything like this has been done in France (harking back somewhat to his first Book with its works for two bass viols and continuo, made up of harpsichord and a third bass viol) and it is his concession to players with less advanced technical skill. Here the three bass viols take centre-stage, with harpsichord continuo.

The muzettes of the Dminor suite are particularly useful in teaching Marais to groups of three or more students. The least familiar with Marais can “rest” by playing the monotonous but necessary bass line; the more advanced can tackle the upper lines, and take breaks from time to time with the third part. Marais himself might have had a similar teaching situation develop in Paris where he had three bass viol students in the room together all wanting to play as part of an ensemble. Theoretically they could play without a continuo, but the figures in the part for Bass III indicate that a harpsichord in the background would have been heavily involved in the musical process. 

My work today has been on the Petite Paysane of Suite 1 (major key), contrasting as it does with the Paysane Gracieuse of Suite 2 (minor key). The two bass solo lines in these two suites feature either writing in thirds and/or short-interval imitation and in this regard they accord with pieces written for two treble viols and bass and are reminiscent of the Marais 1692 Trios. Not surprisingly, Marais mentions this as a possible instrumental combination (along with German Flutes or violins), so there’s “broken” consort potential (violin/viol, flute and bass viol with continuo) or trio sonata potential (two flutes and continuo) – certainly a “broader” aural range than the usual bass viol with continuo that marks the rest of the Pieces de viole.

The Petite Paysane is in a tic-toc rhythm and I’m aiming at a beat of around 108/m. It’s marked Legerement so we’re talking about a very light touch, contrasting with the sound of the clodhopping slurs. The top line calls for smooth fingering from D to A via E and F# and holding down the E for as long as possible in these run-ups is a good idea. The only sticking point is the descending scale from A down to B with slurred steps. The first section is remarkably short at just 4.5 bars; this accords with another dance movement entitled Paysane in Book I. Thereafter the harpsichord here is immediately given some crunchy harmonies by way of strong contrast. The second bass viol has more interesting writing for it than you’d anticipate. It doesn’t just imitate the top line throughout, playing in thirds. Marais clearly doesn’t associate the rural with lack of interest. The folksy touch is repeated in the second Suite not only in the Paysane Gracieuse (which jumps to the range of an octave higher than the Petite Paysane) but also with two Muzettes and a Menuet-Muzette. These very simple movements contrast with more difficult surrounding movements.

I can now add Petite Paysane to my list of Marin Marais works accessible to intermediate-level bass viol players and I’m well on my way to my first twenty pieces. Ben Torrey likes (or liked) to always include musical scores and webcam/digital camera performances along with the text of his blog. That’s something for me to aim for in the future.

1-2        Menuets 99 and 100 (Book V) – see recording by Savall of Book V, track 15.

3            Petite Paysane (Book IV)

4            Menuet 7 simple et double (Book V)

5            La Biscayenne (Book 4)

6-7       Menuets 103 and 104, Cor de chasse (Book III)

8           La syncope

9           Idee grotesque (Book V, no.42)

10        Menuet 1, La Poitevine (Book  V, no.112)

11        Prelude (Book V, no.92) – see recording by Savall Book V, track 11.

12-13   Menuets (Book 1, no.23 and 25)

14          Menuet (Book III, no.35)

15          L’uniforme (see recording by Charivari Agreable)

16          Rondeau le Bijoux (see recording by Charivari Agreable)


Equally interesting are these four (as far as I can tell noone has ever recorded Roland Marais):

1                Menuet (Roland Marais, Book 1)

2                Gavotte et double (Roland Marais, Book 1)

3                Rondeau La Barrengue (Roland Marais, Book 2, 1738)

4                Rondeau allemand (Book 1) – see Charbonnier’s method.

And I note some also in Dunford’s method (Marais from the Scottish National Library, Hotman and Ste-Colombe).

Working through Siblin at the moment and coming up with references, far and wide, to the Bach ‘cello suites. For example, in the inspiring website of Ben Torrey (http://bentorrey.com:2112/blog/?cat=15) who not only plays the first movement of the G major, but also a William Kinglake Saraband (III-13) from the Manchester Gamba book (see also Stephen Yates’ transcriptions for lute).

The VdGSA website has at the moment a transcription of Sheep may safely graze for five viols. The top treble line is interesting because to get the slurs right you play open strings but rarely. The fast notes from C to A on the A string are particularly useful.

Marin Marais – Book V, No.92: Prelude

While I’ve raved before about Minuets 99 and 100 from Marin Marais’ Pieces de viole Book 5, one prelude I’ve done some work on under Jenny Ericksson’s past direction is No.92 from the same book. The harmony/bass line really pulls the soloist along, so it really only makes sense when played with another viol or continuo. Everything is clearly marked by Monsieur Marais in the original and John Hsu’s book explains those markings. Today’s practice was limited to the small bass; will take out the 7-string tomorrow. I baulk at the extension required on my 7-string, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve taken time out to strengthen the left hand by playing guitar and oud, with little effect.

My other favourite Prelude is the very first in the book, No.1. Prelude le Soligni. It precedes the delightful Allemande la Facile and the even more spectacular Sarabande. I rely heavily on the recording by Mieneke van der Velden to bring the score to life.


Caix d’Hervelois – Book V, Suite No.1 in D: Menuet

 With Siblin uppermost in my mind, somewhat more straightforward than any solo dance movements by Bach are ones similar to Caix d”Hervelois from his Book 5, Suite 1 in D.

As with all Minuets of this period, the bowing needs to be consistently strict, push and two pulls in each bar. Inegal in the quavers.As with the aforementioned Marais minuets too, the angularity of the melody requires seamless string-crossing, which feels like jumping off a cliff. Perhaps I should have climbed more trees as a boy. There’s nothing like dancing a minuet and recalling the physical sensations of it: incredibly fast with a giddying sense of dragging the body around, with a strong one beat to the bar! While the beauty of this minuet is singular enough, the addition of the bass continuo makes it even more memorable.