Harpsichord Notes

June 6, 2018

Dandrieu’s harpsichord music

Hot on the heels of May’s review of a compact disc devoted to keyboard works by Haydn, June’s feature is a recording recently issued by the same company, Encelade, this time entirely devoted to harpsichord music by Jean-François Dandrieu (1682–1738).

Some organists may recognize Dandrieu’s name, especially if they play his best-known composition for our instrument, the Offertoire for Easter: O filii et filiae, a piece that occasionally appears on the playlist for organ competitions. Searching for a large volume of Dandrieu’s harpsichord music that I vaguely remembered as being somewhere in my music library, I came across Ernest White’s St. Mary’s Press edition of a hefty selection of organ pieces by Dandrieu in White’s spiral-bound Well-Tempered Organist series: fifty-five pages of French Baroque organ music that I had not perused since high school days.

A quick look at our composer’s biography raised my interest level. Born into an artistic Parisian family, Jean-François, a child prodigy, made his first known appearance as a harpsichordist at age five, performing for King Louis XIV and his court. (Shades of Mozart!) By age 18 he was playing the organ at the Church of St. Merry, made famous by the composer Nicolas LeBègue. Five years later, Dandrieu was named titular organist of that venerable religious edifice. In 1721 he was appointed one of the four organists of the Royal Chapel. 

David Fuller, in a brief Dandrieu article for the New Grove Encyclopedia of Music (1980) ranked Jean-François as the third most gifted composer of his era, after François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Another authority on French Baroque keyboard music, Mark Kroll, does not give Dandrieu so exalted a station, but he does suggest in his chapter on “French Masters” [published in 18th-Century Keyboard Music, edited by Robert L. Marshall; New York: Routledge, 2003] that there is much of interest to be noted in some fingerings and manual change indications found in the composer’s third (and final) major publication.

Like quite a number of the Haydn disc’s selections, Dandrieu’s harpsichord works were completely unknown to me. Eventually I did find that hefty tome containing the composer’s three major harpsichord publications of 1724, 1728, and 1734 in a single-volume twentieth-century edition by Pauline Aubert and Brigitte François-Sappey, Trois Livres de Clavecin, published by the Schola Cantorum, Paris, in 1973—a massive undertaking filling nearly 200 pages. Incidentally, friends whom I queried for information concerning more recent Dandrieu editions were not able to cite any.

The Dandrieu disc, in addition to an unfamiliar repertoire, also showcases a harpsichordist and three instrument makers who are equally unfamiliar. I am delighted to report that Marouan Mankar-Bennis plays superbly in his first solo harpsichord recording, and builders Andreas Linos and Jean-François Brun, the makers of the 2014 Flemish-style harpsichord after Joannes Couchet (seventeenth century), utilized for tracks 1–17, and Ryo Yoshida, builder of the eighteenth-century French-style instrument constructed in 1989, employed for tracks 18–24, maintain similarly lofty standards. Indeed, I could go so far as to suggest that this Encelade disc might well turn out to be my favorite harpsichord recording of 2018!


A clever program

[Note: page numbers in bold type indicate the location of the individual selections in the Schola Cantorum edition.]

Monsieur Mankar-Bennis has arranged his concert to form what he has dubbed a “harpsichord opera” comprising a Prologue (tracks 1–5) and Five Acts. In cogent program notes he describes this creation, beginning with the one piece not found in my Dandrieu volume, a two-minute youthful Prelude (1705), played on the Lute (Buff) stop to suggest an antecedent of the eighteenth-century harpsichord repertoire, followed by four selections from the composer’s Third Book (1734): La Précieuse [Courante, p. 144], La Constante [Sarabande, p. 145], La Gracieuse [Chaconne, p. 148], and Le Badin [Menuet, p. 151].

Act I (tracks 6–10) commences with an overture: La Magicienne, [p. 100], a sequence comprising La Pastorale (excerpts), Las Bergers Rustiques and Héroïques, and Le Bal Champêtre [from Book Two; pp. 107–108], ending with La Naturèle from Book Three [p. 134].

Act II (tracks 11–14), Les Tendres Reproches (Book II, p. 104), Le Concert de Oiseaux: Le Remage, Les Amours, L’Hymen (Book I) [pp. 32–35].

Act III (tracks 15–17), La Plaintive
[p. 1], La Musette and Double [p. 7], Les Caractères de la Guerre [Book I; p. 14].

Act IV (tracks 18–19), Le Concert des Muses, Suite du Concert des Muses (Passacaglia) [Book II, p. 92].

Act V (tracks 20–24), La Lully (p. 81), La Corelli and Double (p. 83), La Lyre d’Orphée (p. 86), La Figurée (p. 87) [Book II]; La Tympanon (Book I, p. 46).   


Further delights

The pieces heard on the recording total 24 individual movements, 23 of which are to be found in the Schola Cantorum edition. The entire volume contains 104 separate movements. (Dandrieu’s Book I comprises 37 individual character pieces in five suites. Book II, 31 movements in six suites. Book III, 36 works in eight suites.) I recommend many of these charming pieces, most of which seem to be less technically difficult than similar movements by Couperin and Rameau. Indeed, I am disappointed that I did not know these compositions earlier in my career. They would have made excellent additions to the French harpsichord repertoire, perhaps immediately following Couperin’s L’art de toucher le clavecin Preludes, especially for less technically gifted students! Oh well, as Oscar Wilde quipped, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I have been aware for quite some time that, ironically, by the time we know enough to teach others, it is nearly time to retire.

I have not checked every note in the Trois Livres compilation, but thus far I have found only one misprint: in the Double of La Champêtre (page 147) measure three of the Reprise is missing the bass clef, needed for the following measure to make musical sense. Should you find other suspect notes or missing alterations, please let us know.

For ordering information and performer’s biography, visit www.encelade.net.

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