King Harpsichord | Festival de Lanaudière
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King Harpsichord

27 July, 2021



Jean-Henri D’Anglebert
Manuscript Pieces
Prelude in D minor
Tombeau de Monsieur de Chambonnières
Passacaille extraite de l’Armide de Lully

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Excerpts from Nouvelles Suites de pièces de clavecin

Transcriptions by Mélisande McNabney

“Tendre amour,” from Les Indes Galantes
Air de la Folie, from Platée

Antoine Forqueray (transcription by Jean-Baptiste Antoine Forqueray)
Cinquième suite en do mineur

Mélisande McNabney, harpsichord

Jean-Henri D’ANGLEBERT (1629-1691)

Suite in C major (excerpts from D’Anglebert’s autograph manuscript B.N. Rés 89ter)

Prélude (D’Anglebert)

Allemande (Ennemond Gaultier, “La Vestemponade”)

Courante (Gaultier, “La Superbe”)

Sarabande (René Mézangeot)

Gigue (Gaultier, “La Cloche”)

Chaconne (Gaultier)


Prelude in D minor

Tombeau de M. de Chambonnières

Passacaille from Lully’s Armide

Jean-Henri D’Anglebert (or Jean Henry D’Anglebert, as he later styled himself), was one of the foremost keyboard composers active during the latter half of the seventeenth century. He served as harpsichordist first to the Duke of Orléans, then to Louis XIV at Versailles (1662–1674). He played a seminal role in the development of French keyboard music, providing the link between the school of French lutenists and its influence on keyboard composers, hence between Chambonnières and François Couperin. D’Anglebert’s only published work appeared in 1689 near the end of his life. Entitled Pièces de clavecin, this beautifully engraved document consists principally of four suites, and was dedicated to his student (and the King’s daughter), Marie Anne de Bourbon, Princess of Conti. An important component therein is a detailed, codified table of ornaments (decorative flourishes) that became an essential reference source for later composers, including François Couperin, Rameau, and Bach. The remainder of D’Anglebert’s output exists in manuscript.

“There is an overall seriousness about D’Anglebert’s style,” writes critic Brian Robins, “that wears that indefinable Gallic air of nostalgia, an intimacy that takes us into more personal, profound regions than merely the expression of courtly pomp.”

Mélisande McNabney’s program opens with a Suite in C major that she assembled herself from a manuscript source called the B.N. Rés 89ter. Except for the Prelude, all the pieces are transcriptions D’Anglebert made of lute music by other composers, specifically René Mesangeau (or Mézangeot) and Ennemond Gaultier. “These transcriptions reveal all of D’Anglebert’s admirable skill in transforming the idiom of the lute into that of the harpsichord,” writes McNabney in the booklet notes for her recording (Inspirations) of tonight’s repertory.

The Prelude to the C-major Suite is a little one-minute affair, but the Prelude in D minor is something else entirely. This extensive, impressive work is fully representative of the genre known as the unmeasured prelude, written without bar lines or precise note values, thus giving the performer considerable room for improvisation. Dense counterpoint and a multitude of ornaments characterize this music.

The tombeau (literally a “tomb” or “grave,” but as a musical genre a memorial piece, often for someone important) was a common type of music in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. McNabney calls the one we hear tonight. It was written for D’Anglebert’s predecessor at court, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, generally regarded as the first important French performer as a solo harpsichordist.

Regarding the Passacaille from Lully’s opera Armide, McNabney notes that “making transcriptions, which could also be done ex tempore, was a widely practised art at the time, serving as a way to play and hear your favorite opera extracts at home. … By publishing his arrangements for harpsichord of Lully’s arias, D’Anglebert gave the public the opportunity to do so, while also leaving modern harpsichordists an invaluable record of the practice of transcription.”

Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

From the Nouvelles Suites de pièces de clavecin


Gavotte and Six Doubles

Transcriptions by Mélisande McNabney

“Tendre amour,” from Les Indes galantes
“Aux langueurs d’Apollon” (Air de la Folie), from Platée

With the possible exception of Leoš Janàček, Jean-Philippe Rameau waited longer than any other great composer to achieve widespread recognition in his lifetime. Not until he was past fifty did the French musical establishment pay much attention to him, and even then it was fortuitous circumstances that clinched the matter. Yet he is regarded today as one of the towering figures of music history, a kind of French counterpart to (and contemporary of) Bach and Handel.

Until the Baroque revival in the late twentieth century, Rameau’s music was more respected than listened to. But beginning with the revival of Les Indes galantes at the Paris Opéra in 1952, and continuing on through the groundswell of interest in authentic performance practice and Baroque music in general, performances and recordings of Rameau’s music have been reacquainting the public with the riches of this long-neglected master.

Rameau spent the first quarter of the eighteenth century shuffling from one insignificant post (as organist and/or teacher) to another ̶ in Paris, Dijon, Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Avignon and other places. He finally settled in Paris, but waited several years more before he got his big break. In 1731, a rich patron, Alexandre-Jean-Joseph Le Riche de la Pouplinière took Rameau under his wing, and his luck changed. Rameau became La Pouplinière’s composer-in-residence as well as his resident organist and conductor.

Rameau’s output can be mostly divided into two types of music: music for solo harpsichord or with harpsichord, and music for the stage. Mélisande McNabney performs examples of both, the latter in her own transcriptions.

For harpsichord alone, Rameau wrote three books, or collections, each containing numerous pieces. The third was published in 1726 or 1727 under the title Nouvelles Suites de pièces de clavecin. All the pieces are either dances (courante, gavotte, minuet, etc.) or character pieces (Les Sauvages, La Dauphine, etc.), and all fall into one of two tonal schemes: A major/minor, or G major/minor. Mélisande McNabney plays excerpts from the former, the Sarabande in A major and the Gavotte in A minor with its six Doubles. A sarabande is a stately, dignified dance full of elaborate embellishments to the simple melodic line. It is in slow triple meter, with the second beat of each measure heavily weighted. The Gavotte and Doubles from Rameau’s Pièces is one of the best-known variation sets of the entire Baroque period. Like most of Rameau’s keyboard music, it is notable for its textural clarity, rhythmic vitality, feeling for colour and sheer inventiveness. Following the introductory Gavotte (a French peasant dance in duple meter) come six doubles (variations), each of which treats the flow of sixteenth notes differently.

After the Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin Rameau devoted himself primarily to the stage, for which he wrote more than two dozen works of one kind or another between 1733 (Hippolyte et Aricie) and 1764 (Abaris ou Les Boréades). Following immediately after Hippolyte came Les Indes galantes (1735). Les Indes galantes exemplifies the genre known as opéra-ballet, which the dramatist Louis de Cahusac described as “a composite spectacle of several different acts, each of which represents a distinct action, with divertissements, songs and dances intermingled.” The title Les Indes galantes, which defies English translation, conjoins love and exoticism, though by no stretch of the imagination do any of the four acts take place in the “Indies.” Concertgoers tonight with long memories might recall the complete, lavishly staged production of Les Indes galantes in Montreal’s Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in 1979, given by the visiting Opéra de Wallonie. The aria “Tendre amour” comes from the Troisième Entrée, Les Fleurs, set in Persia. This love song is one of the most popular numbers from the opera, and has seen numerous arrangements.

Ten years after Les Indes galantes came Platée (1745). This was Rameau’s first attempt at comic opera, and it was a hoot. The ugly water nymph Platée, Queen of the marshes, mistakenly believes that Jupiter, chief of the gods, is in love with her (Jupiter’s reputation for philandering is, after all, well known), and wants to marry her. Jupiter himself leads her on, the whole purpose being to cure his wife Juno of her constant jealousy (deserved as it may be). The work was a huge success.

McNabney drew inspiration from the writing of the aforementioned Sarabande, with its orchestrally conceived textures and prominent tenor line, in transcribing the quartet ‘Tendre amour’ from Les Indes galantes. “For my transcription from Platée, the aria ‘Aux langueurs d’Apollon’ sung by the character La Folie,” she writes, “I was inspired by Rameau’s own virtuoso style to include hand crossings. Transcriptions and virtuosity often go hand in hand, for composers and arrangers make use of all means imaginable to reproduce different sonorities, timbres, and textures.”

Antoine FORQUERAY (1672-1745)

Suite No. 5 in C minor (adapted by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Forqueray from a suite for bass viol and continuo)

La Rameau (Majestueusement)

La Guignon (Vivement et détaché)

La Léon: Sarabande (Tendrement)

La Boisson (Vivement, les pincés bien soutenus)

La Sylva (Très tendrement)

Jupiter (Modérément)



Antoine Forqueray was a contemporary of Rameau, but his instrument was the viola da gamba, not the harpsichord. He and his son Jean-Baptiste-Antoine (1699–1782) were renowned as the greatest gambists of their time. In 1689 King Louis XIV appointed him musicien ordinaire of La chambre du Roy, where he remained for the rest of his life.  His distinctive, bold style of playing earned him the reputation for playing “like the devil.” Such was his reputation that three of his near contemporaries ̶ Jean-Philippe Rameau, François Couperin and Jacques Duphly ̶ each composed a piece entitled “La Forqueray” as a tribute to him. In 1738, the Mercure de France noted that his music was “so difficult that only he and his son can execute them with grace.”

In 1747, two years after the elder Forqueray died, his son published two volumes of Pièces de viole, 32 in all, arranged into five suites. “It is not easy to establish with certainty the paternity of these works,” writes McNabney. “Their style suggests that Forqueray fils, who claimed to have composed just three of the pieces in the collection and to have added the basso continuo part, may have contributed more. The transcriptions for harpsichord are so well realized that it seems that they must have come from the hand of a harpsichordist, probably that of the celebrated harpsichordist Marie-Rose Dubois, wife of Jean-Baptiste-Antoine. These two works reach heights of virtuosity for both gamba and harpsichord, particularly in ‘Jupiter.’”



Program notes by Robert Markow

Traduction : © Hélène Panneton for Le Trait juste