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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 3 (1997) No. 1

Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Motets à voix seule, accompagnée de la basse continue, Paris, 1689. Introductions by Philippe Lescat and Jean Saint-Arroman. “La Musique française classique de 1650 à 1800,” Courlay: Fuzeau, 1994. [lxxii, 170 pp. Edition no. 3289. FF 303 ($55).]

Robert Ballard, Premier Livre de tablature de luth, 1611. Introductions by Pascale Boquet and François-Pierre Goy. “Collection Dominantes.” Courlay: Fuzeau, 1995. [xxxi, 92 pp. Edition no. 5014. FF 170 ($31).]

Reviewed by David J. Buch*

1. The Series

2. Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Motets à voix seule

3. Robert Ballard, Premier Livre de tablature de luth


1. The Series

1.1 The facsimile editions published in the two “Fac-similé Jean-Marc Fuzeau” series under the direction of Jean Saint-Arroman offer much to the performer with scholarly interests. The “Collection Dominantes” has a broad scope, being devoted to major works of European music while “La Musique française classique de 1650 à 1800” is more restricted. The quality of the facsimiles is consistently high, with clear images, good paper, and strong bindings. The prefaces are more detailed than is usual for similar reprints by Minkoff, and the price is a bit more modest.

1.2 Each edition begins with a chronological list of biographical highlights aligned with important historical events, followed by historical introductions in the manner of the editions published by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Remarks are translated into English and German from the original French (although the footnotes are not always translated). The commentary is most detailed when it turns to performance practice, as these editions are directed to performers rather than scholars. This is apparent in the derivative nature of the discussion, which offers less original research than summary of past scholarship. The bibliographic scope is somewhat insular, mostly limited to French language sources. No table of contents is provided in either volume.

2. Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Motets à voix seule

2.1 This is a collection of sixty-one exquisite petits motets by the rather pious organist Nivers, who served the Queen of France while he was master of music at St. Cyr. His vocal music is less well-known than his three organ books (1665, 1667, and 1675). Nivers’ six liturgical chant books and his theoretical treatises are of historical significance. This publication is the first of two prints of petits motets, the second being published in 1692. One mass and two additional motets complete the surviving corpus of Nivers’ oeuvres. The motets apparently were intended for use in the convent. Their style is marked by rich agréments and supple Italianate melismata. The Litanies de la Sainte Vierge prefigure the better known motets by François Couperin and others. Thirteen motets feature récitatif introductions and unison choral responses. Alleluia refrains are common, as are binary and rondeau forms. Appended to the motets is Nivers’ short treatise on continuo realization, L’Art d’accompagner sur la basse continue pour l’orgue & le clavecin, one of the earliest French publications on figured bass.

2.2 The historical introduction by Philippe Lescat discusses the regulations of the Maison Royale de Saint-Cyr and the liturgical context of the motets. Detailed discussion of performance practice by Jean Saint-Arroman concentrates on text underlay, notation, inequality, errata, and ornamentation. Nivers’ own relevant theoretical discussions are reproduced in facsimile with annotations. (The exception is the manuscript copy at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, Manière de toucher l’orgue dans toute la propreté et la delicatesse qui est en usage aujourd’hui à Paris, which due to “primitive syntax and barbarous spelling” is rendered in modern French by Cécile Glaenzer.) A separate section on interpreting the ornament signs is followed by some practical suggestions on how to prepare a motet for performance.

2.3 The edition also includes a facsimile of Clérambault’s 1733 arrangement of twelve of Nivers’ motets, some for two voices, some transposed, all without continuo, and with a more current style of ornamentation.

3. Robert Ballard, Premier Livre de tablature de luth

3.1 Robert Ballard published two books of lute tablature. The first, under discussion here, lacks a title page and survives in a single exemplar now in the Bibliothèque Mazarine, shelfmark Rés. B 4761. (Ballard published a second lute book in 1614, Diverses Pièces mises sur le luth, with similar contents. A single copy survives in the St. Petersburg public library, Saltykov-Sccedrin.) The music for both books is available in modern editions published by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. (note 1) These feature a modern tablature edition printed above a transcription in treble and bass clefs, a feature that generally irritates lutenists who wish to use the score as a performing edition. Thus players will welcome this edition, if only for the ease of reading the tablature without numerous page turns.

3.2 The print contains nine pieces called entrées de luth (preludes in through-composed form with more polyphonic textures than the dances), intabulations of elegant dances from fourteen ballets de cour (divided into groups of chants), twelve courantes, ten angéliques, two additional courantes, six voltes, and an untitled handwritten dance (probably a later courante) inscribed on the empty staves of the last volte.

3.3 The chronological table is fleshed out in François-Pierre Goy’s historical introduction, which includes a general discussion of concordances, the traditional and innovative features (e.g., this is the first publication to privilege the courante and to offer systematic ornamented repeats for courantes and voltes), the keys, the notation, and the various genres in the print. Goy justifiably notes the retrospective nature of Ballard’s repertory, departing from the common characterization of Robert Ballard as an innovator in this regard. In fact, we have courantes with the same stylisitic traits that appear to have been written at least a decade before Ballard’s pieces were printed, and examples of more intriguing and “progressive” pieces by Ballard’s contemporaries are easily found.

3.4 The footnotes are not translated, unlike the Nivers preface. A comprehensive list of concordances is given, including ballet and vocal sources. Pascale Boquet supplies a general discussion of the lute, its tuning, temperament, technique, notation, and ornamentation. The final section of Boquet’s contribution is devoted to the character of the dances and their sequencing in performance. This is very brief and the author does not bring to bear the standard literature on dance genres or the suite. For example, in a 1985 article in Acta Musicologica 57, I discussed the incipient suite grouping of these intabulations of ballet dances. The opening pieces in quadruple meter are marked “grave,” recalling the staid pavan or the later slow allemande (both march-like processional group dances). This is followed by a group of courantes or similar dances in triple meter. The set is concluded by a piece bearing a strong resemblance to a sarabande (such pieces are even called “courante-sarabande” in Praetorius’s contemporary dance collection, Terpsichore of 1612). While we have no indication that other lutenist-composers were thinking along these same lines at this time, we can find similar dance groupings in the ballets.

3.5 I would also suggest that Ballard’s “broken style” is less extensive in his courantes than elsewhere, and it is often used as a variation technique, even within a courante or volte (e.g., Volte No. 5). In fact, he integrates variations more than do his contemporaries. His musical style is based on a strong sense of harmony and he often reserves “breaking” the texture for a significant harmonic event (e.g., Courante No. 9). Mostly used in brief passages, successively broken intervals are less frequent than in the music of La Grotte or La Barre, who show more invention in planning and coordinating other elements with broken textures (pedals are occasionally coordinated with other significant musical events). Some courantes have little or no brisure (e.g., Nos. 5, 10). Only occasionally do we find “gestural” imitation or the resolution of a voice at another octave, other characteristics of the “style brisé,” as it was dubbed early in our own century. Return to beginning


* David J. Buch (David.Buch@uni.edu) is professor of Music History at the University of Northern Iowa. His publications include a book on the ballet de cour (Pendragon 1994), an editon of La Rhetorique des dieux (A-R 1989), and numerous articles. Return to beginning

1. OEuvres de Robert Ballard: Premier Livre (1611), ed. André Souris, Sylvie Spycket, and Monique Rollin (Paris: C.N.R.S., 1963; 2/1976). Deuxième Livre (1614) et piéces diverses, ed. André Souris, Sylvie Spycket, Jacques Veyrier, and Monique Rollin (Paris: C.N.R.S., 1964). Return to text

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