About this Recording
8.570986 - DORNEL, L.-A.: La Triomphante - Chamber Music for Recorders, Flute and Continuo (Passacaglia)
English  French 

Louis-Antoine Dornel (c.1680–c.1757)
Chamber Music for Recorders, Flute and Continuo


There is sadly little biographical information about the Parisian organist and composer Louis-Antoine Dornel. The date of his birth can be established at around 1680, though his place of birth remains unknown. His death is also unrecorded, though in 1780 La Borde’s Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne reports that Dornel had died 25 years earlier at the age of 75, placing his death during the second half of the 1750s.

It is possible that Dornel was a pupil of the organist Nicolas Lebègue; in 1706 he succeeded François D’Agincourt as organist at Sainte Madeleine-en-la-Cité, following a competition with Jean-Philippe Rameau, who had been unable to persuade the church authorities to agree to his terms for accepting the post. Dornel left his post in 1716 to take up a temporary position at l’Abbaye Ste-Geneviève which became permanent on the death of André Raison in 1719. Dornel is also known to have played at Ste-Geneviève-des-Ardents, and St-Germain-le-Viel. His position as maître de musique at the Académie française between 1725 and 1742 afforded him opportunities to compose motets for choir and orchestra, many of which were performed at Paris’s pioneering public concert series, the Concert Spirituel.

Several of Dornel’s contemporaries speak highly of his accomplishments in the field of instrumental music. These include Nemeitz, the famous traveller and writer who visited Paris in 1713 (the same year that Dornel’s Sonates en Trio, Op. 3, appeared) and La Borde, who comments that Dornel “avait beaucoup de réputation dans son temps” (“had a great reputation in his time”). Dornel’s surviving instrumental works include the Livre de Simphonies contenant six Suittes en Trio…avec une Sonate en Quatuor, Op. 1 (1709), the Sonates à Violon seul et Suites pour la Flûte traversière, Op. 2 (1711), a set of Sonates en trio, Op.3 (1713), a further set of Concerts de Simphonies…contenant six Concerts en Trio…(1723), and the Pièces de clavecin (1731). A number of organ pieces has also survived along with the theoretical treatise Le tour du clavier sur tous les tons majeurs et mineurs (1745).



Dornel’s Paris


Tous les compositeurs de Paris, et auquel partipent surtout les organistes avaient en ce tempt-là, pour ainsi dire, la fureur de composer des Sonates à la manière italienne. (“It was, so to speak, all the rage for the composers of Paris of that time, and especially the organists amongst them, to compose sonatas in the Italian manner.”)
- Sébastian de Brossard (1724) Catalogue des livres de musique…(Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Rés Vm8 20)

Dornel’s imaginative and dynamic compositional style was perfectly suited to the lively and ever-changing musical environment of Paris in the first decades of the eighteenth century. The glorious years of Louis XIV’s reign were coming to a close, and with it the Sun King’s uncompromising grip on permitted musical taste was beginning to weaken. As musical life at the royal court began to decline so the hub of French musical life shifted from Versailles to Paris, and a strong sense of new found freedom prevailed in the city’s cultured circles. The relative merits of French and Italian musical styles were hotly debated, and works by the likes of Corelli and Vivaldi became well known and were eagerly consumed. In addition, a tradition of public concerts (including Philidor’s famous Concert Spirituel) began in Paris, giving visiting artists from far afield a chance to demonstrate their skills as well as giving composers a chance to air new works.

In this more liberal environment many French composers developed a distinctly cosmopolitan slant in their works, and for smaller scale instrumental music the sonata slowly but surely began to displace the dance suite as the genre du jour. Similarly, Italian tempo indications started to be preferred over the usual courtly dance titles. Not all French composers, however, were so keen to give up all the conventions that defined their national style, and Dornel (along with François Couperin and others) was able to incorporate the harmonic logic and formal clarity of Corelli into a still unmistakeably Gallic music vocabulary. Dornel, along with fellow organist Dandrieux, presented the first French ‘Sonatas’ in Paris, but these were some way from being direct imitations of their Italian equivalents.



The Music


The opening work on this recording is the magnificent Sonate en Quatuor, the concluding piece of the Livre de Simphonies published in Paris in 1709. This is quite probably Dornel’s first experiment with the title and genre ‘sonata’, which may account for its unusual method of publication: although the trios in this volume were printed as a set of three part books customary for the time, the Sonate en Quatuor appears in score at the end of the bass part only. Harmonically the work is adventurous and dramatic, especially in the first movement which alternates sections of slow, expressive writing with virtuosic, Italianate outbursts. The last movement’s contrapuntal writing is also clearly Corelli-inspired.

Two of the works featured on this recording are from Dornel’s Op. 2 (1711). This collection has six sonatas designated for violin (with titles after French string players) and six suites for flute (with references to wind players including Hotteterre and de la Barre), although there is little idiomatic difference between the two groups of works. The Sonate IV in D major is titled La Forcroy after the great French viol-player, and the work’s third and fourth movements feature an extra independent part for ‘violle recitante’. The Troisième Suite in E minor contains movements with typically French enigmatic titles. Dornel appears to have been so taken with the melody of ‘La Caron’ that he used it again in his Pièces de Clavecin, renaming it ‘La Plaintive’—both versions can be heard on this recording.

The 1713 Sonates en Trio, Op. 3, are, in title at least, amongst the first examples of the genre in France. They are however largely French in conception, again using dance forms such as the allemande, sarabande, gavotte and gigue, but also imitation between all parts in the style of Corelli. As in other of his works, both the joyous Sonate II ‘La Triomphante’ and the more reflective Sonate III in B minor use curious ‘void’ or white-note notation specifically in the slow triple-time movements—a feature used by few others apart from Charpentier and Couperin. The Sonate VII in D minor, ‘Pour trois dessus’ is the final work of this same collection; the use of unison in the highest two dessus for large parts of the first movement is very unusual and the success of this idea only becomes clear when the parts finally divide to create a wonderfully transparent three part texture.

Dornel’s Pièces de clavecin were published in 1731. His keyboard pieces were highly praised in the Mercure de France, and are notable for how little they owe to Rameau’s seminal 1724 collection. Instead the influence of François Couperin’s Ordres from fifteen years or so before is much more strongly discernible. The Cinquième Suite in C has both dance movements and character-pieces, and just as in Couperin some ordering of pieces suggests little dramas, particularly notable here in the pairing of the downcast ‘L’absence’ and the positively rapturous ‘Le Retour’.

Christopher Dexter-Mills / Passacaglia

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