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8.553717 - FORQUERAY: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 2 and 4
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Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745)

Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745)

Harpsichord Suites Nos. 2 and 4

Antoine Forqueray won a reputation as one of the foremost players of the viola da gamba of his time. The son of the dancing-master and violinist Michel Forqueray, he was heir to a long family musical tradition. By remoter ancestry the Forquerays were allegedly descendants of Scots who had accompanied Mary Queen of Scots to France on her marriage to the Dauphin, the eldest son of Henri II and Catherine de’Medici, in 1548. At the age of five, Antoine Forqueray played the cello for Louis XIV, the beginning of royal patronage that led, in 1689, to his appointment as musicien ordinaire de la chambre du roy, in succession to the composer and viol player Gabriel Expilly, who resigned in that year. He was later appointed chantre de la chambre du roy, retaining this title until 1742. In 1697 he married Henriette-Angélique Houssu, a harpsichordist who accompanied him in performances. Their first son, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine, was born in 1699. The marriage, however, was fraught with divisions and difficulties and ended in separation in 1710. Whether from professional jealousy or for more personal reasons Antoine Forqueray had his son imprisoned at Bicêtre and in 1725 persuaded the Regent to banish him from France, a decree rescinded on the intervention of Jean-Baptiste’s influential friends and supporters. Antoine Forqueray retired from Paris in 1731 and settled at Mantes, where he spent the rest of his life, from 1736 as a court pensioner. At the height of his career he had rivalled the great viol player of an earlier generation, Marin Marais, and had collaborated with the lutenist Robert de Visée, the harpsichordist Jean-Baptiste Buterne and the flautist René-Pignon Descoteaux, leading performers of the time. His pupils included Philippe d’Orléans, Regent after the death of Louis XIV in 1715, and the exiled Prince-Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel. He played at the reception for Maria Lesczinska, on her marriage to the young Louis XV, and was given a pension by the Prince-Elector of Cologne, Joseph Clemens, intermittently in exile in France.

Forqueray represented a new school of French viol playing, influenced by the fashionable goût italien. He was described by Hubert Le Blanc in his last-ditch defence of the viola da gamba, Défense de la basse de viole contre les entreprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncel, as quinteux, fantasque et bizarre (crotchety, fantastic and strange), while praised for his reconciliation of French harmony and Italian melody. In 1745, two years after his father’s death, Jean-Baptiste published five suites drawn from some three hundred attributed to Antoine Forqueray. These he published in two versions, one for two viols and the other for harpsichord, under the title Pièces de viole avec la basse continuë composées par Mr. Forqueray le père mises en pièces de clavecin par Mr. Forqueray le fils. Jean-Baptiste Forqueray had achieved equal eminence as a performer. In 1726 he had been employed by Quantz at the Opéra with Marin Marais’ son Roland-Pierre, and in 1737 took part, with the flautist Michel Blavet, Giovanni Battista Marella and Joseph-Barnabé l’Abbé, in the first performance of quartets by Telemann, in the course of the composer’s eight-month stay in Paris. In 1732 he had married Jeanne Nolson, aunt of the harpsichordist Anne-Jeanne Boucon and a year after her death in 1740 married the harpsichordist Marie-Rose Du Bois, who, it has been suggested, had a hand in the keyboard arrangements published in 1747. In 1742 he succeeded to his father’s court position as chantre de la chambre du roy and in 1761 entered the service of Louis François I, Prince de Conti. Like his father he could boast distinguished pupils, including Henriette-Anne, daughter of Louis XV, and Louis d’Orléans, son of the Regent, and in 1766 began a correspondence with Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia which throws an interesting light on the current techniques of viol playing. He died in 1782.

The five suites transcribed for keyboard preserve the original range of the viols, keeping to the middle and lower register of the harpsichord. The solo viol melody is in the upper part, while the accompanying bass line, somewhat embellished, is played by the left hand. Harmonies are amplified and the additions remain largely those that a continuo player would normally use in reading a figured bass. The titles of the pieces appear to be those of Jean-Baptiste rather than of his father, with frequent reference to contemporaries of the son rather than of the father.

Suite No. 2 starts with the lively La Bouron, followed by La Mandoline, a rondeau, marked point trop vite et d’aplomb (not too fast and steady). The seven couplets, sometimes with unusual quirks of harmony, are separated by varied forms of the principal theme, which appears finally in arpeggiated form.

La Du Breuil is a loure, a dance that has been described as a slow gigue. The title is a tribute to Jean Dubreuil, a maître de clavecin, and theorist, a younger contemporary of Jean-Baptiste. The elaborate

La Leclair takes its title from the famous violinist and composer Jean-Marie Leclair, also an ordinaire de la musique du roy under Louis XV. This is followed by a chaconne, La Buisson, its title presumably alluding to René du Buisson, a well known harpsichordist in Paris. It follows the Baroque variation form on a repeated ground, combining this with the form of a rondeau, with a series of couplets framed by a principal theme.

Suite No. 4 in G minor starts with La Marella, a piece with marked dotted rhythms. Its title is for Giovanni Battista Marella, Jean-Baptiste’s colleague in the Telemann quartets of 1737. It is followed by La Clément, marked noblement et détaché, for Charles-François Clément, who had dedicated his own trio sonatas to Jean-Baptiste and his wife in 1743. Some years later Clément’s own proposed marriage to his pupil, the daughter of the dancer known as Sylvia, Rosa Giovanna Balletti, was called off, after the appearance on the scene of Casanova. Clément wrote for the stage, and published collections of harpsichord pieces, some on theatre airs. The Sarabande: La D’Aubonne, is to be played avec beaucoup de goût et sentiment (with much taste and feeling), its solemn mood leading to a more rapid piece, La Bournonville, alluding to Jacques de Bournonville, a harpsichordist of Antoine Forqueray’s generation, considered at least the equal of Rameau.

La Sainscy is a rondeau with four couplets and the suite ends with Le Carillon de Passy, again a rondeau, which frames the livelier La Latour. Presumably there is a reference in the title to the château of Passy, bought by Rameau’s patron La Pouplinière in 1747, and, it may be supposed, to the pastellist and portrait artist Quentin de La Tour, part of the same circle in Paris, or, perhaps, to the singer La Tour.

The other pieces here included complete the suites featured on an earlier release (Naxos 8.553407). The Allemande: La Laborde, takes its title from one of the most distinguished writers on music in France at the time, Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, known also as a composer and violinist, who later held an important position at court as a confidant of the King. A pupil of Rameau, La Borde’s wider interests are shown in his friendship with Voltaire and Beaumarchais. His Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne is an important source for knowledge of the period, and he also devised a clavecin chromatique with 21 notes to the octave. La Borde was a victim of the Revolution.

La Morangis ou la Plissay, its title presumably a reference to the town to the south of Paris, is a chaconne by Jean-Baptiste and ends the third published suite. La Rameau, honouring one of the great French composers of the period and marked majestueusement, starts the fifth suite. There it is followed by the spirited La Guignon, its title a reference to the Italian violinist Jean-Pierre Guignon (Ghignone), like Leclair a pupil of Somis in Turin. Guignon had appeared with Jean-Baptiste Forqueray in Rennes in 1727, entered the service of the Prince de Carignan, and from 1733 to 1762 served as an ordinaire de la musique du roy. He too had played in Telemann’s Paris quartets in 1737-38. The Sarabande, La Léon, marked tendrement, is accompanied by a note explaining that the upper part is almost never to be played directly with the bass and is so given.

Keith Anderson


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