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8.553743 - CLERAMBAULT: Cantatas and Simphonias

Louis-Nicolas Clrambault (1676-1749) -Bass Cantatas and Simphonies

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749) - Bass Cantatas and Simphonies

Parisian. Organist to the King. of the Royal Church of Saint-Cyr and the Parish Church of Saint-Sulpice, died in Paris on 26th October 1749 in the 72nd year of his life, interred at Saint-Sulpice... He left Iwo sons who fill with distinction the positions he held as organist.

Evrard Titon du Tillet. Vies des Musiciens et autres Joueurs d'Instrument du règne de Louis le Grand (Lives of Musicians and Instrumentalists of the Reign of Louis the Great)


The Abbé Ladvocat, scholar of the first half of the eighteenth century, did not hesitate, in order to give still further distinction to the character of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault and increase the respect owed both the man and his art, to stress that the family of this famous musician had been attached to the service of the King since Louis XI (1423-1483) The declaration may rest on slender foundations but shows clearly the great fame that the musician enjoyed. It is true, alI the same, that the Clérambault family could pride itself on having been employed as musicians in the royal service for many years Dominique Clérambault (1644-1704), his father, played in the famous 24 Violins of the King, the Bande des Vingt-quatre Violons also known as the Grande Bande. Having taken over the position of Louis Bruslard in 1670, he kept it until 1681. While this service does not go back to the fifteenth century, it establishes firmly the background from which Louis- Nicolas Clérambault would benefit, rooted in the best sources of French music in the seventeenth century. In fact the Grande Bande played a large part in the development of virtuoso performance in France and was at the forefront of contemporary music at the court of Louis XIV. It was there that the first idea of the suite was conceived, stemming from the linked Airs de Ballet or varied melodies that produced the celebrated form of the French overture. It was there again that the form of the sonata developed, in 1704, a form that would in turn lead to the birth of the symphony.


Strengthened by this innovative spirit that inspired French music from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards, even if the relative dullness of the end of the reign of Louis XIV tended to fix certain traditions, but above ail strengthened by a repertoire of forms and methods of performance in which he was brought up by his violinist father, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault completed his musical training with the organists Jean-Baptiste Moreau and André Raison. From the former he acquired a severity of style, the origin of which may doubtless be found in the connection of Jean-Baptiste Moreau to Saint-Cyr, founded by the very devout and austere Madame de Maintenon. There he learned both the art of composing serious vocal works inspired by the work of Racine, then directed towards Jansenism, as well as divertissements, intermèdes and choruses from tragedies, intended for the great Jesuit colleges as well as the Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr. With André Raison he found the contiuuatiou of the tradition of Nivers, making use of all the wealth of colourful organ registrations and the taste for rhythmic subtleties that Raison developed in impressive improvisations. Finally, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault shared with Nivers the organ of the royal establishment of Saint-Cyr, the organ that his master Moreau had played since the foundation of the establishment in 1686 and to which Nivers had succeeded. There he supervised the music lessons of the boarders. He was given the officiai appointment at Saint-Sulpice in 1715, succeeding Nivers, whom he had served as deputy for many years. Finally, he was nominated as organist of the Jacobins of rue Saint Jacques in 1720. From 1697 his position had aIlowed him to publish Airs, then, in due course, a Livre d'Orgue and a Livre de Clavecin, as weIl as sonatas and symphonies that put him in the first rank of composers towards the end of the reign of Louis XIV. His fame spread still further with the publication between 1710 and 1726 of his Livres de cantates.


Evrard Titon du TiIlet, music chronicler of the Grand Siècle, bears witness to his brilliant career Clérambault was known for the expert manner in which he played the organ; but what added most to his reputation was his wonderful talent for cantatas. where he excelled; he had the honour of performing them before Louis XIV, when His Majesty heard them with pleasure; this prince had several cantata texts given the composer, which he set to music, and which were performed in the apartment of Madame de Maintenon: it is these that make up the third Book of his Co/lection. The King was very satisfied with them and appointed him Superintendent of the Private Concerts of Madame de Maintenon.


From then on his career was launched, with Saint- Cyr and the most famous organs, the ear of the court... then the Concert Spirituel. Established in 1725 in order to give concerts of musique de chapelle on the days when the Académie Royale de Musique had time off by reason of religious holidays, the Concert Spirituel from 1727 welcomed cantatas in French suited !o the serious nature of the programmes proposed. The cantatas of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, which could hardly have been suspected of levity, since they were regularly sung at Saint-Cyr, won great success. From 1728 Orphée, Léandre et Héro and Lo musette were sung several times. The following year Mademoiselle Antier of the Académie Royale de Musique won acclaim when she performed, with her majestic voice, Alphée et Aréthuse and Le Soleil vainqueur des nuages (The Sun, Conqueror of the Clouds), an occasional piece written in 1721 for the recovery of the King's health. In addition to this, every fortnight the composer gave in his house in the rue du Four private concerts that attracted many music-lovers. It was there that the master's sonatas, 'simphonies' and other instrumental compositions were tried out.


If Clérarnbault's activity as a composer slowed down in the last decades of his life, the brilliance of his reputation did not grow any the less up !o the end of the century and his most famous works continued !o be performed regularly in various public concerts.



The Cantatas

The Cantatas of Clérambault are in five Books, each containing six or seven Cantatas, of which some are for two and even three voices, with symphonies: apart from these five books, there are some other Cantatas for particular occasions.


Evrard Titon du Tillet Vie des Musiciens et autres Joueurs d'Instrument du règne de Louis le Grand

The cantata was a new form. Its model, Italian in origin, the cantata, was introduced into France at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Like the related form, the sonata, it was at first the preoccupation of a clique of enthusiasts for Italian music, but it soon became French, taking the form of a piece in which recitatives and varied arias presented a brief dramatic situation. Borrowing at first from the language of allegory and lively mime the cheerful imitations of Italian music, this bardIy suited the needs of the court. Its success was elsewhere, in the salons, rooms and celebrations of private people of means. The Grandes Nuits de Sceaux devised to distract from bouts of insomnia the Duchesse du Maine marked the height of the form.


With Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, however, the cantata followed another path. Il drew sustenance from the grand style of the theatre and acquired an element of heroic morality Contemporaries were nol sparing of their praise. Orphée and Léandre et Héro were quickly accepted as models of the new genre. The alternating structure is more flexible, the daring harmonies and the real depth of feeling expressed in the melody bestowed respectability on a form that up to that lime bad been purely for entertainment The cantatas of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault are striking for their expressive qualities but also for the rhythmic boldness borrowed from the Italian. In the arias, such as that of the storm in Léandre et Héro, it is more particularly of Vivaldi that one thinks, when the violence of the elements and of passions are unloosed. Nevertheless the effect is so new that the critic Daquin did not hesitate to declare that Louis-Nicolas Clérambault bad found songs and expressions that belong only to him and make him regarded as the only true model.



At the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sonata form, whether for one or several instruments, was under the influence of Corelli (1653- 1713) and of Francois Couperin (1668-1733), allying Italian lyricism with the spirit of France. The sonata has a structure most often of four movements in which the melody is entrusted to the upper part, with a lower accompanying part.


In the same way that he had adopted the Italian cantata, to give it a French existence, Louisc Nicolas Clerambault took an interest in the sonata. There he found a modern echo of the old suites and gave the Italian model his own personal touch, without, however, going as far as he had with the cantata and renewing it. The structure of his compositions follows the Corellian model, varying the form from four to six movements. Nevertheless the influence of Italian music is very widespread and here again Clerambault's style, with its combinations of dance melodies, comes near to the high style of 'French' writing.


A sign of lesser success may be seen in the fact that many sonatas remained in manuscript. Designated on the autographs as simphonia or sonata, they were given, in addition, more literary titles, such as l'Abondance, la Fdicite, la Magnifique, l'Impromptu, or enigmatic titles such as l'Anonima, It is particularly in these sonatas that the very structured writing of Louis-Nicolas Clerambault comes to the fore, testimony to his training as an organist, Sometimes the violin melodies seem to wander over a meditative harmonic support; the style of imitation, dear to French organists, that gives the melody the poetry of a line drawing, imparts a particular inner feeling to the slow movements; the fugues finally allow large-scale harmonic movements, always marked by their flexibility, All these sonatas start with slow movements and finish with a lively Allegro or a Gigue, Nevertheless, breaking this rule, the single Chaconne movement of Simphonia V has, in its 230 bars over a repeated bass, a less usual character, lively in feeling, approaching rather writing for the keyboard, a brilliant demonstration of perfect technical mastery and a deep understanding of composition. Yet the general mood of works by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault is one of meditation, surprised, on occasion, by a certain latent ironic amusement.


Jean-Yves Patte

English version' Keith Anderson


The Legends of Hercules and Polyphemus


Hercules (Heracles), the son of Zeus and Alcmene, a legendary hero known, in particular for his Twelve Labours, asked the centaur Nessus to carry his wife Deianira across a river, Nessus assaulted her and was killed by Hercules, but as he died he gave her a shirt soaked in his blood, telling her it was a love-charm. Hercules later fell in love with lole Deianira then tried to win her husband's love again by sending him the shirt of Nessus, believing it would bring Hercules back to her. The poison on the shirt was released, when he wore it, and he was only able to find relief from his agony by leaping onto a burning funeral pyre. Deianira later killed herself, while Hercules became a god on Mount Oeta.


The Cyclops Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant and a shepherd, was the son of the sea-god Poseidon and, in an episode in Homer's Odyssey, holds Odysseus and his men prisoner in his cave. Legend associated him with Acis, lover of the sea-nymph Galatea and rival in love of Polyphemus, who killed him by hurling a rock at him. Acis was then transformed into a river, after Galatea had escaped the attentions of Polyphemus by diving into the adjacent sea. Polyphemus is the subject of a poem by Theocritus and continues as a figure in the pastoral, as in Handel's Acis and Galatea.




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