Jean-Henry D’Anglebert (1629–1691) ?Suites for Harpsichord
Jean-Henry D’Anglebert served as claveciniste in the grand siècle court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. His single publication, the Pièces de Clavecin of 1689, was disseminated widely and reissued several times. His music is intricately sophisticated while at the same time serenely beautiful.
D’Anglebert was baptized in Bar-le-Duc on 1 April 1629. After arriving in Paris, he studied with the famous Chambonnières, for whom he composed the final movement of his fourth suite. In 1659 he married Magdelaine Champagne. They had eight sons and two daughters. Around the same time he was employed as organist to the Jacobins, an order of Dominicans in Paris, and also as organist to the Duc d’Orléans, brother of Louis XIV. In 1662 D’Anglebert replaced Chambonnières as Ordinaire de la Musique de la chambre du roi pour le clavecin, a prestigious position he retained until his death in 1691. His son Jean-Baptiste was named his successor in 1674, as part of the practice of reversion. François Couperin followed Jean-Baptiste, and passed the position to his own daughter, the last to hold it. From 1679 or 1680, D’Anglebert was also in the employ of the Duchess of Burgundy, the Dauphine Marie-Anne de Bavière.
D’Anglebert was associated with the most famous musician of the era, Jean-Baptiste Lully, who was godfather and namesake to D’Anglebert’s son. During the reign of the Sun King, a new and distinctly French style in music, art, literature, architecture, and landscape gardening was being developed. D’Anglebert contributed much to the genre of the French harpsichord suite. His notation is quite particular in a way that is descriptive of its intended sound, revealing the connection of the harpsichord suite to those of the lute repertoire. He also extended and refined the use of ornament symbols, creating a standard for use in the seventeenth century and beyond.
D’Anglebert composed only for keyboard instruments. Besides the published volume of 1689, there are additional pieces by him in the Rés 89ter autograph manuscript (c.1677–80) including harpsichord transcriptions of lute works by the Gaultiers (Ennemond and Denis), Mézangeot, and Pinel. The contents of the 1689 publication comprise four suites in G major, G minor, D minor, and D major, with fifteen transcriptions from Lully operas and four others without attribution interspersed throughout the suites according to their key (only the suites are heard here). Additionally there are five Fugues on the same subject and a Quatuor sur le Kyrie for organ. A brief treatise on basso-continuo accompaniment is included, and of great importance is the distinctively large ornament table with 29 entries, some original with D’Anglebert.
The beautifully engraved, leather-bound volume is dedicated to his talented young student Marie-Anne, the Princesse de Conti. She was the legitimated child of Louis XIV and his first mistress, Louise de La Vallière. In the dedication she is addressed respectfully as “your Most Serene Highness, daughter of the King”. D’Anglebert died in 1691, two years after his publication. His impressive legacy rests on the substance, originality and great beauty of his music.
One of the challenges in D’Anglebert’s music is the performance of ornaments. Most are indicated by symbols explained in his table, and others of a more melodic nature are notated on the staff. In both cases, they are part of the texture and serve to intensify the expression. It is possible to count as many as from four to six ornament symbols in many measures. Their contribution must be understood in order to support the affect. Choice of tempo can be very helpful in this regard. Dances have characteristics that include a notion of their tempo. The time signature is also instructive. Out of the forty movements in these suites, twelve have additional instruction through the use of the tempo words lentement, gaiement, or fort lentement. Even so, tempos depend on their context for understanding every bit of instruction given.
The texture itself is a clue to performance. If one compares original lute compositions with their harpsichord transcriptions, as David Ledbetter has done in his book Harpsichord and Lute Music in 17th-century France, it can be seen that D’Anglebert adapted the character of lute music to the harpsichord in a way that either borrowed or emulated its expressive devices. None of the suite movements are transcriptions of lute works, but the same textures and idiomatic expression are evident. As a result, very little is heard vertically, even in highly rhythmic movements, also influencing our perception of “dynamics”. Other harpsichord composers of this period also wrote successfully in the brisé style initiated by D’Anglebert’s teacher Chambonnières, but no one more exquisitely than D’Anglebert.
Another consideration is the matter of repeats. Most are marked, but others are not. Binary dance forms normally repeat both halves, either through repeat signs or a writtenout reprise, often embellished. A petite reprise occasionally follows the last normal repeat. At the end of nearly every movement of his suites D’Anglebert additionally offers an option to repeat from the beginning (au commencement), to play the entire movement again.
Because of D’Anglebert’s interest in the lute, and his very personal way of incorporating lute textures and expression into his harpsichord suites, a decision was made to play the two major-mode suites on a lute harpsichord. The two more serious minor-mode suites are played on a French-style harpsichord after Blanchet. Both are described below.
Three of the suites begin with unmeasured preludes, a form borrowed from the “tuning” preludes improvised by lute players before playing a dance suite in the same key. For clavecinistes it became a highly expressive art form rather than a practical vehicle, requiring the player to organize and communicate the musical ideas in a personal way, including motion and pacing in a piece notated without bar lines or time signature. Most unmeasured preludes are notated in whole notes only, as are these preludes in the autograph manuscript Rés 89ter. The published version, however, uses a mix of whole, eighth, and sixteenth notes (semibreves, quavers and semiquavers) in a way that is suggestive but not necessarily prescriptive. Each of D’Anglebert’s preludes sets the stage for the dance suite to follow, according to the affective character of its key.
In unequal tuning systems, intervals are tuned perfect, narrow, or wide. Chords are heard as more or less “in tune” depending on the combining of those intervals, giving harmonies a more resting or active quality within the context of how they function in the key and are used in harmonic progressions. The affections of the keys were part of the study of rhetoric (persuasive communication) and music (composition), and are still useful today. Reading key descriptions from the period inspires one to examine the composer’s choice of musical materials and events within a particular key.
The Suite in G major opens with a prélude non mesuré that is full of warmth and expectation with its effusive rising lines and contentment at resolutions. Its key is described in the period as pastoral, serene, affectionate, and gentle. In many ways, the allemande resembles the style of the preceding prelude, although now with the visual aid of rhythmic organization into measures. The texture here is so free-wheeling that at times it seems the most basic elements of music have blended in a joint effort to charm. This accomplishes the brisé style of playing associated with the lute, and persists in some way or another in every movement of all four suites.
Three courantes follow, the first of which is coupled with a double or embellished version. Whereas there are nearly continuous ornament symbols notated in D’Anglebert’s music, the double is largely ornamented through the addition of connective notes. Each of the other courantes increases the energy level through figuration and extension of the keyboard range, the second exploring a series of clausulae and the third a series of brief modulations.
The sarabande transfers the rising lines into the bass line, and colours the harmony exotically with chromatic inflections that curiously enhance its sunny atmosphere. It is followed by two gigues that exploit harmonic suspensions and passing tones, respectively.
The gaillarde, like the sarabande, functions as a high point of the French suite. In France the gaillarde differed from those of other countries in that it was much slower and highly expressive. Here it is peaceful and not at all sad. It is followed by a chaconne, whose appreciative grandeur is structural as well as expressive. At the beginning of its third couplet, we hear an example of D’Anglebert’s keyboard adaptation of the lute technique campanella.
This suite concludes with two light-hearted shorter movements. The gavotte is marked lentement and is composed in common metre. Usually gavottes are given C or 2 as a time signature, which would contradict lentement. At this tempo, the movement has a gentleness that allows the ornamentation to speak. The innocence and grace of the menuet is an affectively charming close to a suite in G major.
The Suite in G minor has fewer movements. The affect for this key stands in contrast to the key of the first suite: it is darker, but in a way that can be beautiful and tender or yearning and uneasy. The opening prélude non mesuré is dark and brooding. An example of the lute strumming technique known as tirer et rabattre is found in keyboard adaptation here, through the repeating of notes within the voice-leading of assembled harmonies and the bold downward arpeggiation of chords.
The allemande that follows thrives on a fair amount of downward moving lines, even as the tessitura climbs higher. This caution is replaced in the first courante by bolder action, reaching continually for higher and lower notes. Resolutions take place that incorporate dissonance at the moment resting should have occurred. The restless second courante exploits surprising changes in direction, chromatic inflection (some cross-relations), and keyboard range.
The sarabande is seated low in the keyboard most of the time, and captures the sultry flavour of its early Spanish origins. The gigue is strongly rhythmic, fiery and determined, and is followed by a gaillarde that has a mournful, troubled expression. While its harmonic progression can be tracked with little difficulty, the way the harmonies are connected by melodic voice leading and decorative ornamentation produces the affect.
The crowning movement of this suite is a passacaille with twenty variations on a descending tetrachord bass pattern (g–f–e flat–d). The bass pattern is not often heard clearly, but the harmonic pull that it outlines is definitely felt. It is a movement worthy of study, both for its musical craft and its variety of expression.
The Suite in D minor is a large suite that opens with a prélude non mesuré twice as long as those of the previous suites, moving forward with excitement and anticipation. The suite is capped by a set of 22 variations on the Folies d’Espagne. The word folia, a popular ground that originated in fifteenth-century Iberia, literally means “insanity” in Portuguese. A wild, churning dance song, it was used as the basis of improvisations and virtuoso compositions. Its influence can be felt throughout this suite, in which the key of D minor carries affects of devotion and grandeur, melancholy and phantoms.
The allemande saunters through twists and turns, followed by two contrasting courantes (the first with a double) exhibiting strong accents or sweeping lines. Two sarabandes (the first entitled grave and marked lentement), a gigue, and a gaillarde capture an exotic quality via strong accents, gestural flourishes, or swings in emotion. A tasteful gavotte (in 2) and graceful menuet lead to the Folies, the latter borrowing its melodic outline.
The Suite in D major is the shortest of the four suites. The affect for the key has been described as merry, jubilant, shouts of joy to heaven. It does not begin with a prelude, and its opening allemande gaiement is a bit more rhythmic. Two courantes of a rather jaunty nature, a warmly inviting sarabande, and a playful gigue (in ¾) lead to a triumphant chaconne rondeau. The rondeau theme is repeated with a double in its first and last hearings that makes use of the bell-like campanella technique.
At the close of this suite we encounter a sublimely touching tribute, a tombeau marked fort lentementfor D’Anglebert’s teacher Chambonnières. The rhythm is notated very precisely, yet needs to be played with an understanding of the expressive freedom that the notation affords.
Jean-Henry D’Anglebert reputedly owned and played a Ruckers harpsichord. He would have been familiar, however, with the work of the best instrument-makers in Paris, probably including the earliest member of the Blanchet family. Because D’Anglebert wrote music that includes notes not found on any original Ruckers harpsichord, we may suppose that he owned what is known as a ravalement, a procedure that involved taking an earlier original harpsichord and partially disassembling it, then adding wood in various locations to enlarge the size of the instrument. When a ravalement involved adding notes to either the bass or treble it was called a petite ravalement, or a grand ravalement if notes were added to both the bass and treble. The purpose of doing all this was to preserve a wonderful sounding harpsichord while making it more musically usable.
Jan Couchet, the last real member of the Ruckers dynasty in Antwerp during the first half of the seventeenth century, was probably already performing ravalement on his own instruments by the end of his career. The Couchet harpsichord that currently resides in Brussels began as a single manual harpsichord, was enlarged to add more notes to the keyboard, and then later enlarged again to make the case deeper so another keyboard could be added to create a double manual harpsichord. This is actually how the design of the classic French harpsichord evolved.
I made the harpsichord used in this recording after an original double manual harpsichord by François Blanchet, perhaps the most famous maker in that family of harpsichord makers, who operated his workshop in Paris during the mid-eighteenth century. François learned his acoustical craft from rebuilding Ruckers harpsichords.
In the hands of less scrupulous instrument makers, this rebuilding practice often involved using one or two authentic fragments from an original Ruckers instrument - a small piece of soundboard, a rosette, some decoration, the jackrail or nameboard—anything around which a new harpsichord could be made. These new instruments were artfully antiqued and sold as original Ruckers harpsichords.
A lute harpsichord is strung in gut, not in iron or brass. There are no lute harpsichords surviving from the eighteenth century or before, yet we know that such instruments existed from detailed descriptions published at that time. Therefore everyone who makes a lute harpsichord today must invent it anew. The lute harpsichord used in this recording is one I made in 2000 using a description found in Adlung’s Musica Mechanica Organoedi (1768) of a lautenwerk made for J. S. Bach based on his special requirements.
D’Anglebert wrote harpsichord music in what is now called the lute-style. That is what prompted Elizabeth Farr’s decision to use this particular instrument of mine for this recording.