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8.572999 - ATTAINGNANT, P.: Harpsichord Works (G. Wilson)
Pierre Attaingnant (c.1494–1551)
In its treasure vault, the Bavarian State Library in Munich keeps a box containing six tiny books of keyboard music printed at Paris in 1531 by Pierre Attaingnant. There were formerly seven, but one has been ‘missing since 1963’, according to a pencilled note. All have appeared in modern editions, which retain to a greater or lesser degree the appalling number of errors found in the originals. Since having been acquired, probably by a court agent, they have rested—untouched, to judge by their impeccable condition—on various shelves through nearly five centuries of turbulent German history. They were saved through Teutonic thrift and efficiency, and, I think, by their near-unplayability as the texts stand. Other copies which fell into the hands of actual performers must have eventually been discarded in dismay. The set’s (partial) survival in Munich is fortunate indeed, for they are the only copies to be found anywhere in the world, and without them, the greater part of the extant 16th-century French keyboard repertoire would be lost. Little enough remains as it is.
Pierre Attaingnant (c. 1494–1551) was a publisher of (mainly vocal) music and a designer and cutter of note fonts, who has the great merit of having developed a way to print music in a single impression, making the business simpler and much cheaper. The process made its inventor a wealthy man, which cannot be said for most of the composers whose music he printed. Attaingnant’s method was dominant for a century and a half; music printing became far more widespread, and his successes earned him the title of Printer of Music to the King, François I—the monarch who gave the world the Chateau de Chambord and the first Fontainebleau School (see our cover image).
Attaingnant was also the first to print fully-harmonised dances for ensembles (thus stripping away the veil of secrecy maintained by the musicians’ guilds), as well as the first lute music published in France; but in the case of the seven keyboard publications he badly overreached himself. The problem of printing more than one note on a staff was obviously formidable, but the failures of proofreading found in these editions are inexcusable. The book of dance music in particular is the most error-ridden printed source I have ever come across.
A proofreader for the first printer of music with moveable type, Ottaviano dei Petrucci, complains bitterly that his typesetter was so poorly trained that correcting the plates was nearly impossible. Since typesetters were not musically trained, the proofreader’s job was indispensable. Attaingnant’s seems to have been on vacation. Most of the pieces are transcriptions—changes of performing medium which would commonly be called ‘arrangements’. We are lucky to have the original versions of almost all the chansons, many of the motets, and some of the dances, with the aid of which the difficult and uncertain task of restoration can be undertaken. I will admit to having gone somewhat further here in this respect than in my past work, especially where the gorgeous polyphony of the chansons has been treated a bit too cavalierly by their arrangers, in order to make them more easily playable. The presentation of these men’s work by Attaingnant is, in any case, so mangled that it is in many places impossible to know what their intentions were.
Worse, their names go unmentioned, and worse still, the composers of some truly remarkable original keyboard music remain anonymous to this day. Both categories of pieces—arrangements and original keyboard works—now always appear, quite absurdly, under Attaingnant’s name. Imagine a novel published only as the work of Hachette, or a movie with only the production companies in the credits; or, more apropos, a recording of songs by Cole Porter arranged by Billy May, marketed with no mention of either. Still, we must be grateful to Attaingnant for his entrepreneurship, without which we would have very little French keyboard music from the 16th century at all. This disc presents, alongside a heavily corrected selection from Attaingnant’s keyboard books, the pitiful remnants of what must have been a tremendous heritage, lost thanks to the carelessness and arrogance of later ages. These consist of scattered single pieces, a few fragments, and three larger sources from which representative samples are offered here. An essay available online at www.naxos.com/notes/572999.htmand at www.glenwilson.eu discusses this small but highly interesting corpus at greater length.
All seven of Attaingnant’s keyboard publications are ‘for organs, spinets, and clavichords’, including the books of (ostensibly liturgical) Masses, motets, and magnificats. This casts an interesting light on the usual assumptions about the ‘correct’ instrument for such works. The French plucked keyboard instrument of the era was almost exclusively the espinette, a rectangular virginal, none of which have survived. There was, however, limited knowledge of the harpsichord proper in 16th-century France, and its use is justified by the expression ‘et telz sembables instrumentz’ which Attaingnant adds to his list in five of the books. I have chosen an early Italian instrument which might have sounded familiar to the Duchess of Étampes, and which I hope will prove less of a trial to the listener’s ear than the piercing sounds produced by virginals from other countries which look similar to extant pictures of the espinette. If it be asked why I do not use more categories of keyboard for the sake of variety, I would answer that I find it difficult enough to achieve something approaching adequacy on one at a time.
For this survey, I have chosen a variety of chansons and dances, one motet, and two of the three preludes found in Attaingnant’s books. The last are very rare examples of the early French form, and serve as powerful evidence of the many brilliant works which must have been lost. The most remarkable of them 17 modulates ‘through each of the modes’. It is deeply regrettable that their composers, like those of the magnificat and Mass versets published by the royal printer, will forever remain anonymous. The musicologist François Lesure thought one of them might be Jean Dugué, the only Paris keyboardist of the time about whom anything much is known; but judging from those bits of information*, he seems to have been far too young for the job in 1530. The most likely candidate to my knowledge (which I owe entirely to the work of Christelle Cazaux) is Jean Desgretz, chamber organist to the king, who in 1529 was reimbursed for an ‘espinecte’ which ‘he has placed in the King’s chamber for his service’. Another possibility is Nicole Cueil, referred to in various documents as ‘le petit organiste’, who served Queen Éléonore, and later, Charles V’s sister. Pierre Mouton, organist of the royal chapel, who was also canon and organist at Notre-Dame de Paris, may well have contributed to the sacred works.
The transcriptions of chansons and motets which occupy four of Attaingnant’s seven books show several different arrangers at work. Their ornamentation, and their handling of the difficult task of transferring the elegant counterpoint of the great French masters to the keyboard, varies from the pedestrian to the enchanting. The ‘new’ French chanson, a breath of fresh air after the complexities of the old Franco-Flemish school, conquered all Europe with its subtly overlapping lines, its emphasis on the upper melody, its expressive and logical harmonies, and texts revelling in wit, ribaldry, and, of course, good and ill fortune in love (English translations are available together with the essay mentioned earlier); hence the market for versions for solo lute and keyboard. Many of them take the form of dances, such was the penchant of the French for Terpsichore. It is surprising, in a genre generally regarded as light and playful, to find how many are lyrical, impassioned, serious or sad. Our printer again fails to mention the names of some of the composers. Greats like Clément Janequin (c. 1485–1558) and Adrian Willaert (c. 1490–1562) (whose bitter soldiers’ march 22 is a worthy precursor of Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat) appear sporadically; but since the supreme master of the chanson, Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490–1562), was a great favourite of François I, it is no surprise to find that most of the arrangements are of his works.
Almost nothing is known about the composer of our motet 21 , Jean de La Fage, despite the fact that he is included in the list of France’s most famous, all dining together on a banquet of songbirds, in Rabelais’ Pantagruel. The text is from a Benedictine antiphon: Look down, O Lord, from thy holy throne, and remember us; O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our tribulations. It is a masterpiece of supplication and sorrow, the opening work in the book of Treize Motetz. This leads me to think that it may have been written during the king’s Spanish imprisonment after his capture by Charles V at the battle of Pavia.
The dances, most of which were originally for ensemble or lute, centre around the numerous branle family—round-dances usually performed as a suite, from slow (for the old folks) to fast (for the young married couples). One short suite seems to survive intact in Attaingnant’s book of keyboard dances 16 . These three examples of some of the main types (branle de Poitou, branle simple and branle gay) are set in delightful periods of three long bars. Many of Attaingnant’s dances are mislabelled; somebody re-cast older dances (ballo, saltarello, basse danse) as the fashionable new pavane and gaillarde. There are some true galliards, and it was in a print by Attaingnant where the new craze first appeared in 1529. I take these at the ‘slower, stronger’ tempo recommended by the primary dance source of the 16th century (Arbeau), and which is demanded by the high leap with a capriole on the fifth beat of the bar—not to mention ornamentation in instrumental versions of the dance which would be unplayable in the headlong tempi normally taken nowadays. A writer in the 17th century (Vierdanck) already complains about the ‘very great abuse in tempi’, and says that the galliard especially must be taken ‘very slowly’. Even the lively branle gay, saltarello and corranto have a separate step on each beat, and should not be rushed.
* The poet Olivier de Magny uses Dugué (or du Gay, as de Magny metonymically spells it) in quatrains of two love poems as a metaphor for the best espinette performance imaginable—except, of course, for that of his paramour.
Et quand la petite Brunette
Quand l’ame à quelque chant de sa voix elle donne,
Lesure’s article Dugué only survives in the old Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (MGG). It has disappeared in the new edition, and he is absent in New Grove. Thus, is the most prominent family of keyboardists in 16th-century France lost to easily-referenced printed history.
The 16th-Century French Keyboard Repertoire / Chanson Translations: additional notes to NAXOS 8.572999
The CD recording to which these lines serve as an attachment is presented under the name of Pierre Attaingnant, who published seven books of keyboard music in 1531 without actually having anything to do with their musical content (see my notes to Naxos 8.572999). These are usually cited as the only keyboard music from 16th-century France; however, there are isolated survivals which prove otherwise, and which are in some respects more interesting than Attaingnant’s error-ridden books, six which survive as unica in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich.
Before the country was ripped apart by the Wars of Religion, the French musical tradition was vast and influential. The earliest known keyboard music of all, from the early 14th century, is in a notation which should be called “Old French Tablature” instead of “Old German”; the French were the first to use 32nd notes (demisemiquavers), the first to use the modern keyboard score of two five-line staves, and the first to shift to a quarter note (crotchet) beat—and yet the list of 16th-century keyboard composers in the standard history of the genre (Apel) includes not a single Frenchman in the company of the English, German, Italian and Spanish masters. Jehan Titelouze, in the introduction to his Hymnes of 1623 says that “within living memory no music has been printed in France for the organ” (which is shorthand for “keyboard”), and almost all manuscripts have vanished. Every scrap that I could locate is presented here. From these, a vague idea can be formed of what has perished. Each work is discussed under its track number on the CD.
I must first mention two sources that I have disregarded. At some point in mid-century, the important Lyon printer Jacques Moderne published Musicque de Joye. It, too, survives in a unique copy, oddly enough also in a library in Munich. Without it, 22 of the most important Italian ricercars ever composed could not be reconstructed, since it is a pirate edition of the epochal 1540 Venetian print Musica Nova, which exists today only as one of four part-books. Moderne’s title page says the ricercars are appropriate for learning to play the espinette (the rectangular virginal which was the usual plucked-string keyboard instrument in France of the time), violins and flutes; this in spite of the fact that it too was published in part-books, which means that players of the espinette would have transcribed (intabulated) the separate parts either into open or keyboard score. Moderne appends 29 anonymous French dances to his book; seven of them have concordances in a collection of dances for ensemble published by Attaingnant in 1547, and the others were undoubtedly also snatched up here and there in the casual fashion of the time. Moderne tells us the dances are included to learn their characters and meters; obviously, a keyboardist might transcribe (intabulate) these as well, but this small difference of declared purpose, as well as the fact that a true keyboard version would need plenty of added ornamentation, put these lovely pieces outside of the present purview.
Secondly, the Mulliner Book, an English keyboard and cittern miscellany of around the same time, contains three small pieces with French titles notated as treble and bass only. These look like unfinished arrangements of continental dance tunes, and it would be too bold to call them French keyboard music, or to try to fill them out.
Finally, before proceeding to the pieces actually recorded, two prints from Lyon known to be lost deserve mention: an earlier print from Moderne’s shop entitled Tabulature d’epinette (1536) by Guillaume de Brayssingar (mentioned in 1585 as “Allemand, organiste à Lyon”, doubtless a relative of the lutenist and guitarist Grégoire Brayssing from Augsburg, who was also active in France); and Simon Gorlier’s Premier livre de tabulature d’espinette (1560).
31) The versatile mid-century Paris printer Guillaume le Bé published at least one volume of music, as evidenced by a single page of a “Tabulature d’Espinette” which survives as part of a collection of samples of his art which le Bé himself assembled, and which is kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. The delightful piece begins with the final chords of the first of four strains, and is very likely a Corranto, the latest thing from Italy; but we cannot be sure since the title is missing. It is especially poignant that the rest of this otherwise unknown book is lost.
32) Munich is once again the location of a unique source: a manuscript of 14 chansons arranged around 1550 for keyboard in “Old French Tablature”, which consists of an ornamented upper voice in staff notation, with letters representing pitches and positions underneath it for the left hand. A handful of manuscripts survive exhibiting what must have been a very widespread, practical, space-saving expedient, as long as the left hand moved only in slow notes. One chanson from this source must suffice here, pars pro toto: Pierre Sandrin’s song of requited love, ”Quand je congneu en ma pensée”.
33, 34) Jacques Cellier was a master draftsman who produced remarkable manuscripts of calligraphy, architecture, geometrical design and musical instruments, as well as a small treatise on the elements of music. On his own testimony he was organist at Laon and Reims, but if there is any truth to the assertion, he must have been a minor, improvising assistant at best, because the astounding errors in his notation of music show him to have been musically semi-literate.
One of his manuscripts, produced between 1583 and 1587, was dedicated to king Henri III. It contains two fascinating fragments of keyboard fantasias. One is by the great Guillaume Costeley (see track 38), the other by the little-known Pierre Megnier; both show great promise once the errors are dealt with, but they are heartbreakingly brief.
Cellier transmits one complete work to us in a manuscript of 1597, unfortunately anonymously. He titles it Pavanne; it is in fact a Passamezzo Moderno, a set of variations on a popular bass line. The piece bears an uncanny resemblance to one attributed to Sweelinck in its only source, which is usually eliminated from the canon of works by the Orpheus of Amsterdam on grounds of its simplicity. I disagree—see my NAXOS Sweelinck recording—and this piece may just possibly have filtered down to Reims from Amsterdam as well (the French were sometime allies of the Dutch Republic in the struggle against Spain). Its use of Sweelinck’s echo technique (repeating figures at a lower octave, a manner so brilliantly developed in his Echo Fantasias) is very striking. Of course we will never know; both pieces are delightful representatives of a carefree Italian genre which had made its way northward via the South German trade routes, and possibly via Lyon. “Echoes” of various types were popular in the nearby Southern Netherlands, too (and even in Dutch poetry). But Cellier’s little piece may be the earliest datable example for keyboard. The next oldest is from 1603 (Banchieri).
35) One of the most famous Italian madrigals of the century was by the Netherlander Cipriaan de Rore, a song of parting and anticipated reunion, “Ancor che col partire”. Countless ornamented versions for lute and keyboard exist, but here we have a rare example of a fantasia upon the piece: the framework of subjects is present, but whereas some passages are taken over whole, most get an entirely new, emotionally heightened development at the hands of Nicolas de La Grotte (1530–ca.1600), a composer of chansons and highly famed keyboardist (praised for his “sweetness of execution and delicate hand”), who was first employed as organist and player of the espinette to the King of Navarre at Pau (the father of Henri IV, who may have heard La Grotte playing while lying in his—still extant—sea-turtle-shell cradle), and later as “organiste ordinaire” to Henri III. The work survives in open score, the usual notation for keyboard polyphony of the era, in the Nationalbibliothek at Vienna.
36) Another manuscript has taken an even odder journey, namely from Nîmes to Aberdeen. Thirteen modest pieces for espinette, added around 1600 in clumsy manuscript to a print of vocal music,somehow found their way to the Northern home of the “auld alliance” between France and Scotland. The most musically significant is an anonymous little Fantasie sur l’air de ma Bergère, based on the first bar of a tune by Gabriel Bataille, published with his lute accompaniment by Ballard (Paris, 1613), which ends abruptly in a different key from the beginning. But its companion here, a diminutive Pavane de Aranda, is not without charm. It is the famous “Spanish Pavane”, known to the incomparable Antonio de Cabezón, an older countryman of Luís de Aranda, as the “Pavana Italiana”. Aranda settled in France, the Western Mediterranean portion of which was then (and still is in some ways) more Catalan than French.
37) Long after I had already compiled the program for this disc, it occurred to me that I had better take another look at my copy of the “Œuvres Complètes” by Eustache du Caurroy (1549–1609), a handsome book of 42 strictly imitative/contrapuntal 3- to 6-voice fantasies in open score which had been gathering dust in my library for longer than I care to recall. I am very glad I did, for it yielded an education in French contrapuntal mastery in the style of the Italian ricercar at a time when such efforts were few and far between. They were, as far as we know, the first such to be printed in France since Musicque de Joye. Du Caurroy stood at the pinnacle of his profession as surintendant de la musique to the court of Henri IV. His Requiem was performed at the funeral of Le Bon Roi Henri after his assassination by a Catholic fanatic who hated Henri’s ideas about religious freedom, and it continued to be performed at the funerals of French monarchs.
This great repository of learned composition was published posthumously at the instigation of the composer’s nephew in 1610 (Ballard, Paris), but was undoubtedly created for the most part before 1600. Titelouze, the main link in keyboard music between the old and the new centuries, praises du Caurroy’s profound studies, and builds on his work. The 42 fantasies, since they appeared in part-books, are always consigned to the realm of ensemble music. But we have already seen in Musicque de Joye one example of such publications being intended as well for intabulation and performance by keyboardists; there are dozens of similar examples. Furthermore, there actually exists a contemporary manuscript in open score for keyboard of the fantasies in four voices; and a remark by the composer’s nephew in his preface to the edition of 1610 suggests performance on “instruments which have almost all their consonances tuned imperfectly, such as usage has determined and the greatest masters of the profession have deemed necessary”. This, alongside a further analogy involving “good temperament” (keyboard tuning), points towards the use of the keyboard not only as an alternative, but even as the primary medium.
As a final argument for intabulation of such works, I will cite Charles Guillet’s set of 24 Fantasies (two cycles of the twelve modes, natural and transposed), also published by Ballard in 1610. They appeared in part-books like those of du Caurroy, but are, according to the preface, expressly intended for keyboard performance. I have left Guillet out of this recording because he was from Bruges in Flanders, but it is interesting to note that he wrote one of the dedicatory poems for du Caurroy’s set.
The complications involved in printing music of this complexity on two staves, or even in open score, simply made part-books the easy way out. They in no way preclude keyboard performance, while allowing distribution over the music desks of a consort; and du Caurroy’s pieces, at least as far as I have tried them out, are playable as keyboard solos, which surely says something about them. I put this thesis to the test by choosing the second-biggest (and the most beautiful) of the 6-part fantasies for the recording. (The longest of them is an endless, largely theoretical exercise on the hexachords.) The last work in six parts that I wrestled with was Bach’s masterpiece from the Musical Offering. Du Caurroy cannot compete at that level, but he is more than worthy of serious study and performance; one finds a sense of drama and gesture that is rare enough in 16th-century contrapuntists, and which is reflected in his nephew’s description of the fantasies as “the free exertions of a forthright soul”.
Almost all of the fantasies have a Latin cantus firmus in long notes, which are noted in subtitles. The present work (number 39) is one of the six (including the book’s first) that are based instead on Calvinist/Huguenot or “Geneva” psalm melodies, only two of which are specified in the print. The tremendous religious tension that led to the king’s murder is surely behind this reticence. Henri might say that “Paris vaut une Messe”, and convert superficially to Catholicism, but his surintendant seems to have wanted to play it safer. The four major themes of our Trenteneufiesme Fantasie are developed progressively from one to the next, after the Italian manner of the variation ricercar. Emerging triumphantly at the end is the melody used for several Psalms. Nr. 32 would be especially appropriate for the philandering King: “Blessed is the man whose trespass is forgiven”.
38) A French writer of the late 16th century complains that “certain composers” write pieces that even the most accomplished singers “do not dare approach”.He probably had Guillaume de Costeley’s chromatic “Seigneur Dieu, ta pitié” in mind, which was published twice, in 1570 and 1579. Costeley (ca. 1530–1606) was the major composer of chansons of his generation and court composer to Charles IX, the pathetic son of Maria de’ Medici who presided over the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.
The piece in question, an anguished plea for divine aide in deep depression, is built upon a perplexing riddle involving hexachords, which need not be explained here, but which has the effect of bumping the music down a half-step into very strange keys, and back up again, several times. In addition, this chanson spirituel was conceived for one of the myriad speculative ways of adjusting the size of the musical intervals among themselves that preoccupied theoreticians at the time, to the point of distraction. These were born of the irksome impossibility of fitting the pure intervals offered by nature into a complete scale which would allow more than a few keys or modes to be used. This particular scheme divides the octave into 19 equal intervals and demands a special keyboard. But since the piece was specifically conceived for singers accompanied by such a harpsichord, and especially seeing that it is so beautiful in itself, I wanted to include it here, with the harpsichord tuned more or less as singers probably would actually have intonated without such guidance if the music had been written out normally. John Koster has shown that, contrary to the usual specialist thinking, temperaments in which all keys were more or less usable (including the “modern” equal temperament) were already discussed, and sometimes applied, in the 16th century.
It is striking that Costeley’s modulations into strange keys always happen where the text is particularly tortured, and that, when things take a turn for the better, the key changes back to normality. This leads me to think that the composition was (perhaps unconsciously) written with a way of tuning in mind which allowed circulation through all keys, with those moving farther away from C major sounding progressively less pleasant. With the octave divided into 19 equal intervals, they all sound equally awful.
This splendid work was influenced by the emotive late Italian madrigal, on the threshold of monody, and already breaking the bonds of strict tempo in order to express the text, as many sources attest. How far one can go in that respect as a solo harpsichordist is a matter of delicate judgement. The instrument has its limits, not only in terms of dynamics, but also (and especially) of timing. To push these too far is to lose all; to respect them is to concoct magic with the most inflexible of tools.
My solution of the hexachord riddle does not claim to be definitive, and I daresay that anyone making such a claim must be mad. The piece’s notation is full of ambiguities (which may be part of its intended charm), and there are differences between the two editions, which may or may not be corrections by the composer. But I think my version follows the text well:
Lord God, extend your mercy over me,
Alas, Lord, without You,
To You belong the high heavens.
– Glen Wilson
I offer here literal translations, lacking all poetic merit, of the chanson texts, for the sole purpose of aiding an understanding the music in its wordless state. Track numbers are given, as in the previous section of this essay. The authors are often anonymous. Claudin de Sermisy wrote many of his poems, and some of the others must also be from the hands of lyricist-composers.
2) I must to the forest in search of a partner,
3) I have satisfied my desires sufficiently,
5) I met my girl in the lovely woods.
7) My poor heart secretly lives with you,
9) I find no pleasure in these troubles
10) Grapevine, dear little grapevine,
11) How comes it, beautiful lady, I beg of you,
13) She who disdained me for so long
15) Judging by all appearances,
18) My mouth smiles and my heart weeps
20) You will give me joy and love me, my friend,
22) On the marketplace of Arras (obscene nonsense syllables)
24) My heart first knew love in you.
26) Against all reason you have distanced yourself from me.
28) Day has come, sings the lark;
30) The parting from her whom have I loved,
– Glen Wilson
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