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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 11 (2005) No. 1

Jean-Henry D’Anglebert: Pièces de clavecin (Paris, 1689). Hank Knox, clavicytherium. Les Productions Early-music.com, 2003. [EMCCD-7759.]

Reviewed by David Chung*

1. The Contents

2. The Clavicytherium

3. The Program Notes

4. The Performance

5. Conclusion


1. The Contents

1.1 Jean Henry D’Anglebert’s Pièces de clavecin (Paris, 1689), comprising diverse types of pieces and D’Anglebert’s arrangements of Lully’s music, was conceived as an anthology of his life’s work.1 This disc contains 28 of the 60 pieces in the original print (if doubles are counted as separate pieces), amounting to nearly 75 minutes of music.2 Three of the four D’Anglebert “suites” (a term the composer did not use), which may be more accurately referred to as key groups, are represented.3 Aside from omitting the D-major group (with the exception of the single piece, the “Tombeau de Mr. Chambonnières,” which he sensibly places after the D-minor group), Knox shortens D’Anglebert’s key groups by up to half to allow the the music to fit within a single compact disc. Each of Knox’s suites keeps to the classic sequence of Prelude-Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue-other dances/pieces. When more than one piece is available for a certain dance, Knox has a tendency to opt for D’Anglebert’s arrangements of Lully dances over D’Anglebert’s original compositions, but not always (see par. 3.6). Knox’s D-minor suite, for instance, consists entirely of D’Anglebert’s own pieces, but his G-major suite includes two of the original four arrangements of Lully dances at the end, and the G-minor suite is drastically reduced from 22 pieces to 11, of which 8 are arrangements of Lully.

1.2 Knox’s practice of making up his own performance sequences is by no means exceptional, although every player finds a different solution. These sequences are formed for both practical and aesthetic reasons, as the number of individual pieces in a D’Anglebert “suite” is extremely variable, ranging from 8 (D major) to 21 (G minor). Of the few recordings with which I am acquainted, only Christophe Rousset’s complete recording (2000) adheres to the order in D’Anglebert’s 1689 publication, with the addition of two suites from D’Anglebert’s autograph source (F-Pn Rés 89ter).4 Barbara Maria Willi’s Complete Original Works for Harpsichord (1997, 1999) omits D’Anglebert’s arrangements of Lully’s music.5 Scott Ross (1990) also leaves out the Lully pieces, although he includes the six organ fugues and some of the lute arrangements.6 Kenneth Gilbert, in contrast, presents the Lully arrangements and the original works in two separate albums (1987, 1992).7 Arthus Haas (1993) offers a selection of original pieces as well as lute and Lully arrangements, with the music being drawn freely from both D’Anglebert’s print and his autograph.8 Knox, on the other hand, derives his suites entirely from the 1689 book and emphasizes the Lully arrangements.

2. The Clavicytherium

2.1 The most unique aspect of Knox’s recording is the instrument upon which the music is played: a clavicytherium after the French maker Albert Delin (1712–1771) that was built by Yves Beaupré in Montreal in 2002. According to Beaupré, a 1695 temperament after the organist Lambert Chaumont was chosen for its expressive potential, with six pure thirds at the expense of one wolf fifth.

2.2 It may come as a surprise to many that the oldest surviving stringed keyboard, dating from the fifteenth century and currently housed at the Royal College of Music in London, is an upright harpsichord, or clavicytherium. The term, which was first used by Sebastian Virdung in his 1511 Musica Getutscht, actually refers to a range of upright harpsichords. Most of the surviving clavicytheria come from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although the instrument was built in various places in Europe, its use was never widespread, and no standard method of building the instrument developed that would parallel those established by Ruckers or Taskins. Nevertheless, van deer Meer distinguished two main traditions of clavicytherium building: the upright harpsichord, as described by Praetorius (1619), Bonanni (1723), Adlung (1768), and others; and the upright keyed harp, as described by Virdung (1511).9 The latter, with its smaller soundboard and softer sound, was particularly popular in Italy, although it was also mentioned in theoretical writings by Mersenne (1636) and Kircher (1650). Peter Bavington recognized as many as nine types of clavicytherium based on his study of the surviving instruments.10

2.3 In almost all discussions of the clavicytherium, one question comes to the fore: why such an instrument? To begin with, it occupies less floor space, and with the soundboard placed vertically, the instrument can be visually striking, especially when decorated. However, from the player’s point of view, the main difference between a harpsichord and a clavicytherium is that the latter projects the sound toward the player, as with many chamber organs. In fact, the earliest depiction of a clavicytherium, which dates from the 1460s, shows a curious hybrid of an organ and a harpsichord.11 Some seventeenth-century instruments, such as the frequently illustrated pyramid clavicytherium of Martin Kaiser, have very unusual designs that suggest the influence of organ builders.12 In the case of the pyramid clavicytherium, the longest strings are aligned at the center of the instrument, and an organ-like roller-board system is thus required to connect the strings with the appropriate jacks.

2.4 The advantage of having the sound projecting directly toward the player comes at a price, however. Since the jacks are in a horizontal position and do not fall back naturally as a result of gravity, a mechanism must be designed to return the jacks to their original position after their keys are released. Many different solutions were found for this problem. Most clavicytheria have a sophisticated action and a correspondingly heavier touch than a normal harpsichord. As a result, in some instruments, the action is rather heavy and unresponsive, and the mechanical noise of the jacks can produce a disagreeable effect for the player.13 It is clear that the special action that a clavicytherium required would also have been expensive to build. In many cases the advantages seem to have been outweighed by the disadvantages and, unsurprisingly, the clavicytherium never became a popular instrument in comparison to the harpsichord.

2.5 Delin, who worked in Tournai between 1750 and 1770, succeeded in overcoming the difficulties of building an upright harpsichord better than any other builder. His three instruments, which are considered by many to be the finest of all surviving clavicytheria, have an amazingly fine touch that is achieved by a special action that upon the release of the keys allows the jacks to return without the need of springs or additional weights.14 In fact, Delin seems to have had a particular fondness for this instrument and—if the number of surviving instruments is any indication—built more clavicytheria than harpsichords. All three of his surviving clavicytheria were conceived along the same lines, and have almost identical specifications: one keyboard, two unisons, and an original compass of G1/A1e'''.15 The two earlier instruments date from the early 1750s, and the last instrument, which is not dated, is believed to have been built in the late 1760s. This latter instrument, which is now preserved at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, has attracted the most attention in modern times, and was the model for the instrument that was used for Knox’s recording.16 Its luxuriantly decorated case, supported by elegantly curved legs, is believed to date from the nineteenth century, and its flowered soundboard and tastefully crafted rose are fascinating. “The stunning burst of sound from so close to the player’s ears is thrilling, while its fluent action is a tactile pleasure” is one of the many compliments this instrument has received.17

2.6 To use an instrument modeled after Delin’s clavicytherium may at first seem an odd choice for a recording of D’Anglebert’s harpsichord music, which after all was written about a century earlier. However, Delin’s clavicytherium fits the requirements of D’Anglebert’s music, because, as Tournay points out, Delin belongs to a long line of conservative builders whose tactic was to refine rather than innovate.18 The instruments that belonged to D’Anglebert himself (including two harpsichords, of which one is known to have been a Ruckers, and two spinets, all with single keyboards and two or three registers) were very similar to Delin’s clavicytheria in compass, registration possibilities, and tonal ideal.19 It was also with a 1768 harpsichord by Delin that Kenneth Gilbert recorded much of D’Anglebert’s solo harpsichord music.20 The instrument that was used for Knox’s recording has qualities that are commonly associated with a fine Ruckers. Its sound is robust and characteristically grainy, and is voiced with a singing treble, a rich tenor, and a powerful bass. It is noticeably more intense than the 1768 harpsichord by Delin.21 The two unison stops, which are used both in isolation and together, effectively yield a variety of colors and produce sonorities that range from the gentle to the orchestral, the latter lending its effect particularly well to the arrangements of Lully.

3. The Program Notes

3.1 Even a cursory look at the contents of D’Anglebert’s Pièces de clavecin reveals that it is far more than a mere collection of harpsichord music. Published two years before the composer’s death, the exquisite volume encapsulates D’Anglebert’s achievements as composer, harpsichordist, organist, and teacher, while also reflecting his involvement in the musical life of the French court. However, despite his position as Ordinaire de la musique de la chambre du roy, D’Anglebert largely escaped the attention of contemporary musical writers such as Jean le Gallois and Titon du Tillet—unlike his colleagues Louis Couperin and Chambonnières. Even Saint Lambert makes reference to D’Anglebert strictly in the context of the published pieces.22 This means that we know very little about D’Anglebert other than his official activities. For Knox, and indeed many writers, a detailed examination of the contents of D’Anglebert’s Pièces is probably the most fruitful way of delving into the composer’s world.

3.2 Knox’s notes cover a great deal of ground intelligently. A study of the print’s title page leads to D’Anglebert’s career at the Versailles court, as well as his possible links with Chambonnières and Louis Couperin. Musically, Knox discusses D’Anglebert’s table of ornaments and his use of ornaments, the unmeasured preludes, the organization of his “suites,” his compositional process, and the arrangements of Lully’s music, concluding with an assessment of D’Anglebert’s influence. Knox is at his strongest in weaving contemporary evidence, modern scholarly views, and his personal insight into a colorful narrative. His notes benefit from both an awareness of the relevant literature and his rich experience as a performer of this music.

3.3 Although the breadth of Knox’s discussion is to be commended, the condensation of such a vast amount of material results in some oversimplification, such as his account of music making at the court of Louis XIV. It is somewhat misleading to focus the entire discussion on Versailles alone, as so much was taking place elsewhere. Although Lully’s Phaeton (1683) and Roland (1685) were premiered at Versailles, many works were not: Cadmus et Hermione (1673) was premiered in Paris and Le Triomphe de l’amour (1681) in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, both in the presence of Louis XIV. Likewise, many ballets, including the Ballet royale de la naissance de Vénus, Le Carnaval, and Mascarade (1668) had their debuts in Paris. In addition, Knox’s description of Chambonnières (d. 1672) as “D’Anglebert’s predecessor at Versailles” is inconsistent with the historical evidence, as Louis XIV’s court remained in Paris until 1672 and was not officially moved to Versailles until 1682.

3.4 One should not be disproportionately disparaging about notes that are written primarily to inform listeners, but the reader should be aware that some of the comments suffer from over-generalization, such as the discussion of D’Anglebert’s influence. Although Saint Lambert repeatedly cites D’Anglebert’s table of ornaments and his pieces in his Principes du clavecin, the citations are not without reservation. For example, he was of the opinion that D’Anglebert’s “on-the-beat” realization of the port-de-voix was more suitable for vocal music (chansons) than for harpsichord (p. 49).

3.5 Knox’s comment about the possible influence of Frescobaldi’s toccata style on D’Anglebert’s preludes (which was supposedly stimulated by Froberger’s now-famous visit to Paris in 1652) stretches the evidence somewhat.23 D’Anglebert’s preludes have more to do with the tradition of French lutenists in their structure, texture, and notation than with the toccata style of Frescobaldi and Froberger.24 In fact, D’Anglebert’s interest in contemporary lute music extends to his notation of ornaments, such as his distinctive use of the comma sign to indicate the pincé.25

3.6 Knox’s statement that “each suite concludes with a series of transcriptions of instrumental works by Lully” is only partially true. D’Anglebert’s Lully arrangements fit into the suite formation in two distinct ways. First, the arrangements may constitute a separate and self-contained orchestral-type group with a sequence of overture-dances/airs/entrées-chaconne/passacaille (G major and G minor groups). As Knox notes, these are placed at the end of D’Anglebert’s original harpsichord pieces. Second, a number of the Lully arrangements can either serve as an alternative to—or form a contrasting pair with—D’Anglebert’s own pieces through their positioning, such as the D-major “Chaconne de Galatée de Lully,” which precedes D’Anglebert’s “Chaconne en Rondeau,” and the G-minor “Gigue de Lully,” which comes after D’Anglebert’s “1e Gigue.” The “Prosperine Overture” that is appended to the end of the D-minor grouping, followed by the “Folies d’Espagne” variations, is the only Lully item in this “suite,” and D’Anglebert evidently had no more Lully pieces in D minor to introduce. Incidentally, as pointed out by Knox, the “Tombeau de Chambonnières” is probably a separate act of homage that was added at the end of the harpsichord pieces.

3.7 Knox rightly mentions that earlier versions of some of the pieces in the print are found in an autograph manuscript (F-Pn Rés 89ter), and that some of the pieces that were omitted from the print might have been intended for a second volume that was never published. The pieces that were omitted by D’Anglebert include all of the lute arrangements. Interestingly, two arrangements from Lully’s Isis—the Overture (no. 42c) and the Air de Ballet (no. 10)—were also omitted, possibly as a result of self-imposed political censorship, as performances of Isis were banned at court because of the scandal then surrounding the king and his mistresses.26

3.8 Further inaccuracies in the notes include the question mark over the year of D’Anglebert’s birth (1629), which is now certain,27 and the assertion that D’Anglebert was harpsichordist to the Duc d’Orléans by 1668, which should read “until 1668.” I am somewhat intrigued by the spelling “clavecytherium” (which appears to be a Dutch spelling), although “clavicytheria” is correctly printed. A similar inconsistency is found between the spellings “flautist” and “flutist,” which appear in the same paragraph.

4. The Performance

4.1 Knox’s performance is convincing in his stylistic awareness of the improvisatory nature of the unmeasured preludes, in his well-paced dance movements, and in his rendering of the ornaments and the notes inégales. If the contrasts in tempi between movements seem moderate, he nevertheless displays a great variety in touch and spreading of the chords. The expressiveness of his playing is due partly to his intuitive shaping of lines and partly to his sensitive timing—fluidity is achieved without sacrificing rhythmic drive. His ornamentation and varied repeats provide freshness. He makes full use of all registration possibilities for effective contrast. The G-minor key group, for instance, begins with the Prelude (2 x 8') with strong gestures in a declamatory style. The delicate Allemande (1 x 8') is then contrasted by a more extroverted Courante, followed in turn by the “Courante de Lully,” which is powerfully driven and robustly accentuated. The Lully Sarabande, “Dieu des Enfers,” provides relief with some inventive ornamentation. The last piece on the recording, the “Chaconne de Phaeton,” deserves special note because it is the only movement that involves a change of registration, providing an effective contrast between the tous and trio textures. This gives the effect of a two-manual instrument, and is possible—at least in live performance—only with the help of an extra hand.

5. Conclusion

5.1 Of all the key figures of the seventeenth-century French harpsichord school, D’Anglebert, for all his achievements, is the composer about whom we know the least. This lack of knowledge lends mystery and elusiveness both to his personality and to his music. Such elusiveness may be artistically beneficial, as it opens up a myriad of possibilities for the discerning performer. Knox’s recording on the clavicytherium adds a new dimension to our appreciation of D’Anglebert’s music by exploring uncharted terrain.


* David Chung (dchung@hkbu.edu.hk) is Associate Professor of Music at Hong Kong Baptist University. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1998 with a dissertation on the keyboard arrangements of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s orchestral music. His publications as author or editor include Jean-Baptiste Lully: 27 brani d’opera trascritti per tastiera nei secc. XVII e XVIII (UT Orpheus Edizioni, 2004) and articles in Early Music (2003) and Early Keyboard Journal (2001). His recording Stylus Phantasticus: Works for Harpsichord (2004) is available from URM Audio, UK, 87142.

1 D’Anglebert’s print contains four “suites” (sets of pieces in four key groups), six organ fugues, and arrangements for harpsichord of stage music by Lully.

2 In addition to Kenneth Gilbert’s edition (Paris: Heugel, 1975; 5th ed., 1993), three facsimile editions have been published: Broude Brothers (New York, 1965); Fuzeau (Courlay, 1999), reviewed by Kenneth Gilbert in JSCM 6, no. 2 (2000); and Minkoff (Geneva, 2001), reviewed by David Ledbetter in the present issue of JSCM.

3 See Bruce Gustafson’s chapter “France” in Keyboard Music before 1700, ed. Alexander Silbiger (New York: Schirmer Books, 1995), 126–7, for a discussion of the French harpsichord suite.

4 D’Anglebert, Intégrale des Pièces de clavecin, Christophe Rousset, harpsichord (Decca 458 588 2, 2000).

5 D’Anglebert, Complete Original Works for Harpsichord, Barbara Maria Willi, harpsichord (Musicaphon M 56827–8, 1997, 1999).

6 D’Anglebert, Pièces pour clavier, Scott Ross, harpsichord and organ (Erato 2292, 45007 2, 1990); recorded in 1987.

7 D’Anglebert, Lully: Ouvertures, airs & danses, transcriptions pour clavecin par d’Anglebert, Kenneth Gilbert, harpsichord (Harmonia mundi HMA 1901267, 1987); and idem., Suites de clavecin (Harmonia mundi HMA 19094, 1992). Gilbert recorded these albums in 1969 and 1973, respectively.

8 D’Anglebert, Pièces de clavecin, Arthur Haas, harpsichord (Wildboar 8802, 1993).

9 John Henry van der Meer, “A Contribution to the History of the Clavicytherium,” Early Music 6 (1978): 247–59.

10 Peter Bavington, “Provisional Check-List of Surviving Clavicytheria,” Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historical Instruments Quarterly 39 (1985): 50–4.

11 Van der Meer, 249.

12 For Kaiser’s pyramid clavicytherium, see Raymond Russell, The Harpsichord and Clavichord (London: Faber and Faber, 1959), plate 84.

13 Russell, 50.

14 See Jean Tournay, “A propos d’Albertus Delin, 1712–1771: petite contribution à l’histoire du clavecin,” in La facture de clavecin du XVe au XVIIIe siècle: Actes du colloque international de Louvain 1976, ed. Philippe Mercier and Martin-Knud Kaufmann (Louvain-la-neuve: Institut supérieur d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, Collège Érasme, 1980), 140–231.

15 See Bavington, 52–4, for a table listing the compass and disposition of all surviving clavicytheria.

16 Delin’s spectacular looking clavicytherium at The Hague has been repeatedly cited and illustrated in modern writings, including John Henry van der Meer, “Het clavecytherium,” in Mededelingen van de Dienst voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen der Gemeente’s Gravenhage 12, no. 1 (1957): 26–8; Russell, plate 41; Tournay, 202–18; and Edward L. Kottick and George Lucktenberg, Early Keyboard Instruments in European Museums (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997), 162–3.

17 Kottick and Lucktenberg, 162.

18 Tournay, 141–5.

19 See Marcelle Benoit, Versailles et les musiciens du roi 1661–1733: Étude institutionnelle et sociale (Paris: Picard, 1971), 358–9, for a posthumous inventory of D’Anglebert’s instruments. This inventory is translated into English by Beverly Scheibert in Jean-Henry D’Anglebert and the Seventeenth-Century Clavecin School (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 23–4.

20 Suites de clavecin (see ref. 7).

21 Many factors in addition to the instrument itself contribute to the intensity of a recording, such as the microphones and their placement, the recording technique, the acoustics of the space in which the recording was made, and post-editorial work.

22 Monsieur de Saint Lambert, Les Principes de clavecin (Paris: Ballard, 1702; reprint, Geneva: Minkoff, 1974), passim.

23 In his “The Influence of Girolamo Frescobaldi on French Keyboard Music,” Rececare 3 (1991): 147–67, Frederick Hammond concludes that with the exception of Louis Couperin’s unmeasured preludes, there is very little trace of a Frescobaldian influence on French keyboard music.

24 David Ledbetter, Harpsichord and Lute Music in 17th-Century France (London: Macmillan Press, 1987), 100–2.

25 Ledbetter, 83–5.

26 Jérôme de La Gorce, L’Opéra à Paris au temps de Louis XIV (Paris: Editions Desjonquères, 1992), 61–3.

27 Érik Kocevar, “Jean-Henry D’Anglebert ou Jean Henry, dit Anglebert? Mise au point sur le véritable nom des d’Anglebert à la lumière de documents d’archives inédites,” Ostinato rigore 8/9 (1997): 67–86.

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