Thursday, 2 February 2012

De la grotte de Grumpy… à Versailles

Philips L1L 0011 cover [reduced]

Fastes et divertissements de Versailles
Volume V: l’instrument soliste
Louis Marchand, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault
Pièces de clavecin
Marcelle Charbonnier (harpsichord)
rec. March 1955, Paris
Philips L1L 0011

Yes, I’ve been grumpier than usual. I’m grumpy pretty much all day, every day. What with the mess in the Cave, the hoohah about internet file-sharing, the crass criminality of some sharers, the bullying obstructionism of some record companies who seem hell-bent on scuppering this wonderful distribution channel, the poisonous pettiness of certain posters on RMCR, the sudden surge of cowboy sellers (I’ve recently bought several shamefully mis-described second-hand CDs), I’m just GRUMPY!

And I’m barely progressing with my work.

Never mind, here’s a lovely divertissement from what I should be doing. This LP contains all the published harpsichord music of these composers. (A big manuscript with more Marchand has since turned up.) It’s the last in a lovely series of luxuriously presented gatefold albums surveying the pomp and pleasures of Versailles, issued ‘under the patronage of the Secretariat of State for Arts and Letters’. Isn’t the cover handsome, illegible colour scheme and all? I just found this very good copy; now I’m missing only Vol.IV, ‘La musique et l’Eglise’.

Vol.I, ‘La musique et les salons’, with a violin concerto by Leclair and sonatas by Francoeur and Blavet, played by Charles Cyroulnik with Charbonnier and Maurice Hewitt and his Chamber Orchestra, has been transferred to CD by the excellent French label Forgotten Records. Otherwise I’d have done it. You can never have too much of all of these three composers.

Unfortunately, I know nothing about Marcelle Charbonnier, except that I like her playing very much. In her hands, the Chacone [sic] of Marchand’s first book is especially majestic and moving. Please feel free to point me to a biography or obituary. And to tell me what she was playing on – the LP doesn’t say but, again, I like it. I’ve no idea why the first book was mastered louder than the second; I’ve left the relative levels as they were.

Here are the LP’s title listings and English sleeve notes:


Prélude • Allemande • Premiere Courante • Deuxième Courante • Sarabande • Gigue • Chacone • Gavotte en rondeau • Menuet

Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Sarabande • Gigue • Gavotte • Menuet • Menuet en rondeau

‘The most illustrious keyboard virtuoso of his day, Louis Marchand was born in Lyons, France in 1669. At the age of fourteen, he was already a more accomplished musician than his father, a famous organist in Lyons. After working in Nevers and Auxerre, he came to Paris in 1689 and was appointed organist at the College des Jésuites (now the Lycée Louis-le-Grand) on the Rue Saint-Jacques. His reputation was so great that he was asked to become the organist at three others [sic, bless] churches. Finally, in 1706 he was called to the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

‘In 1714, after some unpleasantness with his wife, who had his salary confiscated [so unlike Madame Grumpy!], he left France for a concert-tour in Germany. He met Bach in Dresden, but did not dare compete with him. Bach, however, esteemed Marchand highly and made copies of some of his works.

‘He returned to Paris in 1716 and became organist at the Chapelle des Cordeliers. He remained at this post until his death in 1732 although he never accepted pay for his work there, living entirely on the proceeds of his concerts and his teaching activities.

‘In 1702 and 1703 he had published his harpsichord pieces, which show some influence of Chambonnières. They are brilliantly and elegantly written, but perhaps Marchand used them merely as frameworks for his remarkable improvisations.’

(Each book consists of a single suite; the LP’s German text says the first is in D, the second in C. Modern reference works seem to date them both to 1702.)


Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Première sarabande •
Deuxième sarabande • Gavotte • Gigue • Premier menuet• Deuxième menuet

Prélude • Allemande • Courante • Sarabande • Gigue

“The famous Clérambault found melodies and expressions which were completely new and which cause him to be considered the one, true model.” Thus one of Clérambault's contemporaries judged this composer, while another made these comments: “Clérambault's health was not strong, but he was lively and playful in character. His talent was not obscured by caprice. He was a good father, a good husband, a good friend.”

‘Clérambault, whose father was one of the King's Twenty-Four Violins, had an early start in music. He was made organist first at Saint Jacques in Paris and, later, simultaneously at Saint-Louis de Saint-Cyr and Saint-Sulpice, as well “Surintendant” for Madame de Maintenon.

‘Besides a book of pieces for harpsichord, he left one for organ, some French cantatas, and some sonatas which show the influence of Corelli, whose music was so fashionable in the last decades of the seventeenth century.

‘The two Harpsichord Suites recorded here are subtly charming and show the great mastery attained by their composer. The Preludes are still in the style of notation used by Louis Couperin (that is, the[re] are no definite time-values assigned to the notes). It is interesting that in those pieces showing the most advanced stylization of the original dance-forms, Clérambault made frequent use of odd-numbered, unsymmetrical periods, as for example in the two Allemandes, the Courantes, and the Gigue of the Second Suite.’

(Again, modern sources date Clérambault’s Premier livre de pièces de clavecin to 1704 – no idea why Philips put 1710, which is the date of his Livre d’orgue. You can download the original 1704 edition from IMSLP. The second suite is oddly laid out.)

Each Suite is a single, fully-tagged mono FLAC file. All four are wrapped up in a single .rar archive, which you can download here.

I’ve also been grumpy because I bought some interesting old baroque LPs from a dealer in the US, some of which turned out to be fake stereo and others to be too dirty even for Grumpy, so I won’t foist them on you. I’m on the hunt for the mono originals. But there is other good stuff lying around here, which I hope to share with you (I even know where it is, since I had a bit of a tidy).

This is partly for a harpsichordist friend. No idea if he’ll like it.


  1. Concerning your introduction: let's grump together! A Gorgeous Grump Chorus from Beautiful Bloggers with Ravishing Records! Anyway, the storm seems to lie down after the removal of MegaUpload -
    Anyway, thanks for this beautiful record, my friend!

    1. Dear Satyr, I didn't know you were a grump too! I'm honoured to join your chorus. And thank you, as ever, for your wonderful generosity in sharing your own treasures. Best wishes, G

  2. Good grief! I did not know there were records beyond the III!!!
    As a Maurice Hewitt fan, I had found the first three and thought it stopped there after his death...
    Lucky you are! And lucky are we!
    As far as I know, "Forgotten memories" does its work from the records, just like we do, so don't restrain from offering your transfers!

    1. Deae Discobole, Thank you for your kind comment, it's good to hear from you! I'm glad to find another Hewitt fan. Yes, Forgotten Records works from pressed commercial discs, although it has also recently started issuing broadcast recordings (presumably, from private tapes and/or transcription discs). I do not want to duplicate its wonderful catalogue and, anyway, I have all kinds of other delights in store, if I can just find time to clean them to my satisfaction! Best wishes, G

  3. Many thanks for this. Her playing has a certain gravitas, hasn't it? She really gets dug into that Cavaillé-Coll harpsichord of hers. It's got a sixteen foot that would be the envy of many grand pianos. But somehow her musicality carries your attention away from the peculiarities of the instrument (and she doesn't feel the need to change registrations every few bars to keep us amused).

    It's a stunning transfer too. Really vivid.

    Don't be grumpy. We are a small handful of people and we're doing this for ourselves. Nil desp.


  4. Grumpy,
    Well done - looking forward to it! It makes a welcome companion to Maready's Leonhardt "Zais" that he recently posted.

    On a side note: I TOO am grumpy (with a lower case g, of course) because blogger won't let me post with my wordpress profile. What's up with that.

    All best,