French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728) was remarkably prolific, writing nearly 600 compositions for viola da gamba, as well as many operas. One of his major collections of music for the gamba is Suitte d'un Gôut Etranger, a collection of 33 short works written, according to the composer, "to stretch the skill of those who do not like easy pieces." Jordi Savall, the most acclaimed gamba player of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries, who is responsible for bringing many of Marais' works to light, plays with extraordinary virtuosity and expressiveness.
Like many of his contemporaries, Marin Marais has paid the price of his proximity to some outstandingly brilliant musicians. Between Lully and Rameau we can still cite Charpentier, Delalande, Campra and François Couperin. But what about the others? The Destouches, Mouret and Marais pale beside the stars of a fertile era which was rocked by controversy. The school of harpsichordists and organists, who were no match for Lully’s vocal art, are still represented in the repertoire of present-day performers: D’Anglebert, Lebègue, Dandrieu, Grigny and Clérambault are still played on our instruments. But Marin Marais had the misfortune not only to compose operas in Lully’s domain, but also to devote the bulk of his art to an instrument which was being eclipsed by the advance of the violin family… namely, the VIOLA DA GAMBA or the BASS VIOL. And it is only recently that we have rediscovered the specific manner of playing this instrument as well as the composers who wrote for it.
Le Troisième Livre de Pièces de Viole (1711) « composées par M. Marais, Ordinaire de la musique de la Chambre du Roy » outre le fait qu’elles sont composées pendant les dix années les plus prolifiques de son compositeur, montre parfaitement le style français du début du XVIIIe siècle. Reconnu, il est joué dans toutes les cours d’Europe, où l’on s’imprègne du « goût français ». Si la majorité des morceaux sont issus de la danse, avec des sarabandes, menuets, gigues, allemandes, préludes ou fantaisies, s’y ajoutent des pièces plus originales ne provenant pas de ce domaine : une Fugue gay, le Moulinet, la Saillie du Café, les Contrefaiseurs…
A noteworthy fact: Marais, in his five books of Pièces de viole, published only two suites for two viols and continuo. Aside from the two suites for three viols (Book IV), all the other pieces are intended for the solo instrument with accompaniment of harpsichord, theorbo or a second viol in different combinations.
For his latest recording directing Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet has revived Sémélé by Marin Marais – the final opera by one of the leading composers from the reign of Louis XIV. Known above all for his compositions for the viola da gamba, Marais the composer was at the same time the author of a number of tragédies lyriques which he wrote for the Académie royale de Musique. Even to this day it has only been Alcyone which has attracted the attention of music lovers and musicians. Yet Sémélé – first performed in 1709 – arrives now full of music to charm and seduce the listener: a sparkling prologue honouring Bacchus, a set of arias with a freshly-minted appeal, a marvellously inventive diabolical scene, divertissements rich in character; all this leading up to an earthquake scene memorably anticipating the later work of Rameau. For all lovers of glorious baroque music, here is now the opportunity to discover and enjoy a masterpiece which has lain in theshadows for the last three centuries.
A veteran of Jordi Savall's Hespèrion XX and XXI, gambaist Marianne Muller makes her Zig Zag Territories debut with this disc of music by the great French Baroque composer Marin Marais. The repertoire is daunting: the ingenious and evocative Le Labyrinthe, the 32 virtuoso variations on Les Folies d'Espagne, and the 12-movement Suite in E minor from Marais' Second Book of Pièces de viole. These are works that require not just virtuosity, stamina, intense expressivity, and soulful beauty of tone.
Here is the start of a great adventure: the complete recording of the five books of pièces de viole of Marin Marais. The First Book, published in 1686, contains a dozen suites, two of which are scored for two bass viols and continuo. It also features a very moving Tombeau for ‘Monsieur Méliton’, probably one of Marais’s teachers, and a set of variations on a theme given to the composer by an ‘estranger’, which foreshadows one of the principal compositions of his Second Book, the Couplets des Folies d’Espagne.
Marin Marais, the most outstanding composer for the viola da gamba, was a master in the writing of so-called Pièces de Caractère, in which he called upon the most diverse subjects for inspiration: La Désolée (the desolate), La Guitare, Feste Champêtre (country fair), Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (a description of a gallstone operation!) and so on. The choice of 'Images' in Marais’ five books of Pièces de violes is endless. A program full of worship, grandeur and sadness.