About this Recording
8.553745 - CORBETTA / VISEE: Suites for Guitars and Theorbos

Francesco Corbetta (c. 1615-1681) & Robert de Visée (c.1650 - c.1723)
Suites for two Guitars and Theorbos

Francisco Corbetta, originally Corbetti, was born in the Italian city of Pavia. He settled in Bologna, where he established himself as a fine teacher of the guitar. After serving in this capacity at the Courts of the Duke of Mantua and the Archduke of Austria, he moved to Paris to teach the young King Louis XIV, who had developed a passionate interest in the guitar at the age of fifteen; so it was that this then-Spanish instrument became popular at the Court and, later, throughout the rest of France. Some time in the early 1660s he came to London, where he taught King Charles II and members of the nobility. sparking off a fashionable guitar mania. By 1671 he had returned to Paris where, except for a brief visit to London in 1675, he remained for the rest of his life.

Robert de Visée was born and died in France. Our earliest knowledge of him is that he was called to entertain the Dauphin in 1682, as the Préface to his first published book (1682) confirms. It was not until 1719 that he was appointed Maître de guitare du Roy and after one year he resigned in favour of his son. Thereafter his activities were reported only occasionally and briefly. He enjoyed a considerable reputation as a player of the guitar, the lute, the theorbo and the viola da gamba. The theorbo bad been 'imported' by Italian musicians and was used in Lully's ballets; together with the guitar it gained in popularity as an accompanying instrument and in reinforcing the bass line of the continuo in chamber music, which the lute, then already in decline, could not do. De Visée thus played an important part in establishing both the guitar and the theorbo.

Both Corbetta and de Visée were regarded as the greatest players of their time, and their relationship was both friendly and, in effect, that of teacher and pupil. Corbetta was intimately involved in the life of both the French and English courts and probably passed his secrets (both musical and political) 10 de Visée, whose gratitude was enshrined in his tombeau on the death of his master, the only such tribute written by anyone.

At that time the guitar was played in two basic fashions: battute - chords strummed in often complex patterns, and pizzicate, in which individual notes were separately played (as they were on the lute), making it possible to realise the internal structure and dynamics of textures. Of Corbetta' s five known published books (two others may have been lost), the two volumes of La Guitarre Royalle, dedicated to Charles II (London, 1671) and Louis XIV (Paris, 1674), contained the most refined music, skilfully admixing the two playing techniques. In the Préface to his book of 1674 Corbetta expresses the hope, that the music will be to the King's taste (which was rather less sophisticated than that of Charles II). The evocation of the sounds of war in La Prise de Maastricht doubtless pleased Louis, as did their celebration of that small victory. It is from the book of 1674 that the duos recorded on this disc are taken. L'Allemande aimée du Roy was originally a guitar solo (in the book of 1571) but Corbetta also produced a version for three voices with basso continuo, from which it has been possible to derive one for two guitars, taking into account the particular character of the duos in the later (1674) book. The Fanfares are remarkable for the alarming and incongruous dissonances with which their second halves begin. The Sarabande du départ du Roy and the following Passacaille appear as guitar solos.

Robert de Visée, the younger of the two, was forward-looking. Though he was renowned as a lutenist he devoted most of his creative effort to the guitar and theorbo (the 'key' to participation in the chamber music of his day), and largely abandoned the style brisé that was beloved of earlier French lutenists) in favour of sustained melodic lines. He declared his style to be "much after that of Lully". In 1716 he published Un livre de pièces de théorbe et luth, mises en partition dessus et basses... destinées a être jouées au clavecin, à la viole et au violon, sur lesquels elles ont toujours été concertées, confirming his strong interest in chamber music.

De Visée's duos were derived from existing solo pieces but are not accompanied solos; instead he added independent second parts (contreparties), virtually capable of standing alone as solos, creating dense contrapuntal textures in which the two instruments converse on equal terms. Some of the contreparties here recorded are to be found in privately held manuscripts.

The instruments
During the Baroque period the guitar differed greatly from today's instrument. It had a smaller body and a lighter sound, and carried five courses - single or paired strings, the double courses tuned either in unison or an octave apart. A variety of tunings were in use, permutations of unison- and octave-tuned courses; that adopted by Corbetta, given below, has the lowest (5th) course tuned to the higher octave. This was deemed more appropriate to delicate 'art' music than the lower- sounding octave tuning, the additional weight and 'body' of which enhanced strummed popular music. The 'baroque' guitar, as it is often termed, was thus an instrument without a true bass.

The theorbo was a large bass-register lute. Although its principal uses were 'subsidiary' - to the voice and as a member of the continuo (the 'rhythm section' of baroque instrumental groups), a small amount of solo and duo music was written for it. The rise of the theorbo overlapped the gradual demise of the lute, and its own demise corresponded with that of baroque music per se. The theorbo used in this recording has 14 single strings.

Eric Bellocq
Eric Bellocq was born in 1962. He studied with William Christie at the Conservatoire National Supérieur in Paris, winning the Premier Prix de guitare in 1983. From 1983 to 1989 he took part in numerous concerts and recordings with Les Arts Florissants. He regularly performs with the leading baroque ensembles in France, and has since 1990 been a member of Dominique Visse's Ensemble Clément Janequin, which has been highly acclaimed for its interpretations of music of the renaissance. Eric Bellocq has made over thirty recordings, which range from large-scale productions of orchestral works and operas to small-scale vocal and instrumental works.

Massimo Moscardo
Massimo Moscardo trained as a guitarist, and his great interest in renaissance and baroque music has led to appearances with a variety of early music ensembles in some of the most prestigious festivals in France and abroad. A lutenist with Le Concert Spirituel, he has also appeared with such leading ensembles as Le Parlement de Musique, Combattimento Concert Amesterdam and Les Musiciens du Louvre. His recordings for a number of record labels include, for Naxos, three volumes of the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Le Concert Spirituel (Naxos 8.553173-75).

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