Barthelemy de Caix: Six Sonatas for Two Pardessus
The PARDESSUS de VIOLE The pardessus de viole is an 18th century member of the viola da gamba family, which first appeared in early 16th century Italy. Created as a kind of bowed lute and tuned in fourths with a third in the middle, the six-stringed viola da gamba (also called the viol or viole) inherited a strong tradition of chordal playing. This facility in self-accompaniment, coupled with an expressive melodic voice, made the viol a favorite solo instrument among sophisticated amateur musicians in 17th century France. Treble and bass viols were the popular sizes in France, both fretted and held between the knees. (At that time the violin was played only by professionals for dances and public spectacles.) Near the end of the 17th century the upper scope of the treble viol was expanded; it's bottom D string was removed and an additional high G string was added to the top, making a six-string pardessus (meaning, literally, over or above the dessus). For it's first thirty years of existence the six-string pardessus functioned much like the treble viol, often mentioned as an alternate instrument on the title pages of treble duets written for such pastoral instruments as the musette (court bagpipe), vielle a roue (court hurdy-gurdy) and recorder (end-blown wooden flute). The appearance of the five-string pardessus in the 1730's (the instrument for which the Caix sonatas was written) was stimulated primarily by a new awareness in France of the music of Arcangelo Corelli. The five-string pardessus, fretted and held between the knees, is tuned like a combination violin and viol in fifths and fourths: G-D-A-D-G. It's lowest three strings duplicate the pitches of the violin, but instead of a high F string the pardessus has both an upper D and G. This enables players to reach high-high D without shifting. The five-string pardessus attracted a variety of partisans, most notably the aristocratic amateur women musicians of the French court. Prevented by custom from playing the violin, they appreciated the similarity of technique to the treble viol and the access to the new style of music without the trouble of learning a 'braccio' position. Professional cellists from Parisian theatre orchestras took up the pardessus as well, as did provincial noblemen who found the violin difficult and small children who found the bass viol too large. From 1730-60 the five-string pardessus was extremely popular both as a solo and a chamber instrument. Enterprising pardessus players substituted the instrument for the oboe, violin, or flute in French and Italian trio sonatas, and even it is said, performed Italian violin concerti. After 1760 the instrument began a slow decline; while it became socially acceptable for women to play the violin, the pardessus also began to be seen as a musical symbol of the effete aristocracy. Although teachers of the pardessus advertised in the Mercury Galant as late as 1777, the instrument was also being cannibalized to create new hybrid instruments such as the pardessus hurdy-gurdy, or pardessus vielle. After the revolution, an inventory of instruments confiscated from aristocratic homes showed that pardessus and bass viols were relatively numerous, but a monetary evaluation by revolutionary officials demonstrated that, to the new population, the pardessus was virtually worthless. The Pardessus de Viole as a Woman's Instrument The pardessus was not the only mid-l8th century French instrument to be gendered, that is, identified primarily with a certain sex because of it's function or manner of playing. The harpsichord, viola da gamba, hurdy-gurdy, lute and harp were also thought to he a woman's domain; just as the violin, wind and brass instruments were a man's. This typecasting reflected the situation in which the instrument was used (war-like trumpet and drums were masculine), as well as what position it filled in the ensemble (while women took a supporting role on a keyboard. Lute, or viol, men played the melody on a high wind instrument or violin). There was also a class issue tied to the 18th century notions of amateur and professional. According to etiquette books written by authors such as Castiglione, the aristocrat's purpose in life was to set an example to the lower classes of a life lived with grace, style, and balance. This required the ability to dance, converse with wit and urbanity, perform with ease upon a musical instrument, and in general to ornament the setting in which one was placed. Learning a difficult instrument like the violin took time and effort, interfering with that purpose. And what was true for men was even more true for aristocratic women; they were the supreme ornaments, acting as support, as muse, as balm. So while aristocrats were expected to he talented amateur musicians, the role of professional (performing regularly in pubic for a fee) was not suitable. If we had to judge the manner of playing an instrument masculine or feminine today, we might think it more unseemly for a woman to hold a viol between her legs than a violin on her shoulder (as Ancelet says in 1767). However, Robert Green points out in a recent article, that one reason the violin, oboe, flute, and trumpet were gendered male was because 'they required distortions of the body which were not visually pleasing. One could not play them with a pleasant smile.' By the 17 40s reaction against these kind of constraints was so strong that one contemporary source joked that a woman shouldn't play the flute because someone might have rubbed an aphrodisiac on the mouthpiece. The COMPOSER Barthélemy de Caix (b. Lyons, April 20, 1716) was a member of an illustrious musical family of viol players headed by Francois-Joseph, who transported his three daughters and two sons from their home in Lyon to Paris in 1731 to enter the service of Louis XV. After eight years in Paris, Barthélemy returned to Lyon but was recalled to the king's service in 1748 to teach Princess Sophie to play the pardessus. Barthélemy published 'VI Sonates pour Deux Pardessus de Violes,' op. 1, in Paris and Lyon. According to publishers catalogues, the music was available by 1750, but it's style of composition places it closer to 1745. Who Played Caix's Sonatas? It's a definite puzzle to determine exactly when and for whom the V I Sonates were written. Most published music was intended to be played by the general public; the aristocrats, educated class, and upper bourgeois, but these challenging pieces would have required two equally virtuosic players. Caix's dedication, to one of the elder daughters of Louis XV, adds no further information. The three most likely duo partners who could have navigated the music were Barthélemy and his brother Paul, Princess Sophie and one of her sisters (or Barthélemy), or the pardessus virtuoso Mlle. Levi and her sister Madame Haubault. If it were written for the sisters Levi, it's time frame would presumably have been between 1745 (when Mlle. Levi first appeared at the Parisian Concerts Spirituel) and 1750 (when Mme. Haubault performed there). If the music was destined for Princess Sophie it might have been written around 1748 (perhaps it was the excellence of the sonatas which persuaded the King to recall Barthélemy to Paris?). The Music What makes the VI sonates special? For the listener the musical experience is one of kaleidoscopic variety of style and texture. These sonatas, unlike much of the mid-18th century music which consciously unites the French and Italian tastes in a 'fusion' of styles, 'juxtaposes' a variety of musical styles and genres instead. For example, within a three-movement suite different movements have been modeled upon different traditions. Sonata II opens with a sweet Andante reminiscent of Pergolesi, continues with a pair of French tambourins (titled Tambourino/Presto), and ends with a wild Italian folk-like tarantella. Sonata III begins with Handelian concerto grosso, followed by a delicate French sarabande and concludes with an unusual movement in which the premier dessus plays a French Pantomime in 12/8 time over a 4/4 moto-perpetuo Italian Allegro executed by the deuxieme dessus. One thing to listen for is the constantly changing texture. With a range no lower than the violin G below middle C, the two pardessus segue between all variations of two-voice textures: melody- bass-line, two parallel melodies, melody/chords, melody/drone, simple melody with ornamental figuration, contrapuntal imitation, and a thousand other indefinable combinations. Stylistically, this music would probably he called galant or rococo, reflecting the musical heritage of Rameau, Couperin, and Leclair l'ainé. (The importance of Leclair is no surprise; he and Caix both came from Lyon and their families performed together at the annual, city-wide festivities honoring the King.) The manner in which Caix integrates these influences, however, is all his own. As you listen, note the Italian elements: the terraced dynamics, bravura passagework, singing melodies. Notice the instrumental timbres change as movements follow each other in F minor, A major, C minor. Listen to the character pieces: the musette in Sonata I, the bright march that begins IV, the major-minor minuet pair, which ends VI in the classic, understated French baroque tradition. For the performer, this is some of the most technically advanced literature written for the viola da gamba family, rivaling the legendary Forqueray Suites. They are carefully tailored for the pardessus' distinctive tuning (while playable on the violin, many of the high, quick runs immediately become easier using a high G string): idiomatic in that the passagework and chords are certainly playable by human fingers, but not indulgent in that these elements don't come easily; those human fingers must practice. In a few instances, it seems that the original performers must have had the advantage of very large hands in order to execute certain octave double trills and sustained unisons which move into expanding double stops. Through it's musical and technical demands, Barthélemy de Caix's music gives us a strong sense of the personalities of the original performers: they must have been extremely well-trained with that completeness of preparation which comes from work begun at an early age and sustained by frequent performances. They were well versed in both French and Italian musical style, able to play a tender sarabande as well as all extroverted concerto grosso movement. And most of all, during a performance they must have had the skill to subsume the many technical details so the genius of the music could speak for itself. Our goal was to replicate these qualities as much as possible, and we hope that our performance indeed permits the genius of the music to speak. -Tina Chancey Performers Tina Chancey and Catharina Meints formed the Duo Guersan to record this disc. Both of their historic pardessus were made by Louis Guersan in 1750 and 1745 respectively.