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8.557884 - LE ROUX: Complete Works for 1 and 2 Harpsichords
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Gaspard Le Roux (d. 1707?)
Complete Works for One and Two Harpsichords

 

It was the eminent American harpsichordist Albert Fuller who, in the 1950s, rescued Gaspard le Roux from oblivion, made the first recording of his works, and gave the world a scholarly edition of them along with an important preface. To him I dedicate this new recording, in gratitude for all the things I learned from him during my years as his student at the Juilliard School; I have tried, in my turn, to pass many of them along to my former student Naoko Akutagawa, whose début recording this is.

Le Roux belongs to the very first rank of clavecinistes of the seventeenth century. Only Louis Couperin and Jean-Henri d'Anglebert surpass him in quantity, though seldom in quality. Le Roux, in the preface to his 1705 Paris edition, the order of which this recording follows exactly, promised more works on a grander scale if his efforts should meet with public approval, but he was already dead by June of 1707, and only four other pieces (for voice) survive.

The date and place of birth of Le Roux are unknown, but since he is first mentioned in 1690, and soon afterwards appears in documents as a well-established and prosperous musician, one can assume he died quite young. Nevertheless his harpsichord pieces belong firmly to the tradition of the seventeenth century, and, in terms of style, could just as well have been composed a quarter of a century before they were published. The printed pieces probably represent a selection from his portfolios; they are presented in seven key-groupings which are a little too disorderly to be called suites. In them one finds all the riches of French dance music as codified by the lutenists and Lully for the delectation of Louis XIV and the aristocracy revolving around his court. For sustained invention, rhetorical flair and balance, refinement of ornamentation and profundity of expression, Le Roux has few equals in this style. There are also four gem-like unmeasured preludes in the style of Louis Couperin, which require a considerable rescue effort on the part of the performer, thanks to the engraver's obvious puzzlement with their free, whole-note-only notation.

Le Roux, though, leaves his biggest surprise for the end: the most brilliant set of Italianate variations of the entire French harpsichord school, on a Sarabande closely resembling the Folies d'Espagne. Indeed, this is his answer to Corelli's famous Follia, and to that of d'Anglebert. It seems characteristic of this modest personality that he would not attempt a confrontation with these eminent masters on the identical theme, but also characteristic of his genius that his twelve couplets withstand a comparison very well indeed. He closes this remarkable demonstration of versatility with an almost impressionistic variation that puts one in mind of moonlight sparkling on water flowing from a Moorish fountain. After bowing out with an adorable little menuet, he offers a spectacular encore in the form of a gigue for two harpsichords which overflows with the peculiarly French joy in dancing.

This is the only piece specifically for two harpsichords, but the edition offers, at the bottom of the page, a parallel version of most pieces for two upper melodies and a bass line, which Le Roux says "will achieve their effect" on two harpsichords. He gives five examples of how to make an appropriate arrangement; these we have inserted into their proper places in the "suites" (Le Roux gives no name for his groupings), and added a half-dozen of our own, scattered through the book. This otherwise unique procedure may have been the inspiration for François Couperin's recommendation that his great Trios be played on two harpsichords.

Glen Wilson


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