Performers: Jonathan Dunford (bass viol), Thomas Dunford (recitant, Suite #6)
Playing time: 70'
Recording date: March 1997
From the liner notes (as provided by Jonathan Dunford):
Sainte-Colombe is now a familiar name to music lovers, and his works, until recently fallen into obscurity, have been "rediscovered" to the delight of all lovers of music. But until this recording the works of his son, the younger Sainte Colombe, have also not gotten the attention they deserve.The fault may lie in the scantiness of general biographical information, the lack of French sources, in a limited and still mostly unpublished output, or all of these. What little we can glean of the details of his life comes from England where, like several of his contemporaries, this most enigmatic of French violists settled.
The biographical uncertainty starts with Sainte Colombe the elder. Can one identify him with Augustin Dautrcourt a musician from Lyons-- even a violist -- and who took the surname Sainte Colombe. Still, this does not necessarily mean that he was one and the same as the composer Sainte Colombe who worked in Paris through his whole career. There is also reason to believe Sainte Colombe may have been Jean de Sainte Colombe, a Paris bourgeois who had the two daughters Titon du Tillet attributes to the composer, who counted an organist among his closest friends, who lived in the same parish as many other violists -- and who actually bore the name. We still cannot be sure.
As for the younger Sainte Colombe, there is evidence that he was in Edinburgh in the first half of 1707, teaching viol to the Scottish Lady Grizel Baillie (1692-1732) -- in the same city that now, by the way, houses two of the three manuscripts collections of Sainte-Colombe the elder brought back to Scotland by the Maule brothers, young Scottish noblemen. The only other firm evidence placing young Sainte-Colombe in Britain is a 1713 notice in a London gazette of a concert, to be given on the 14th of May, "for the benefit of Mr. St. Columbe." However, his works themselves suggest a longer stay. They are written for a six-string viol, which strongly indicates composition in England where the violists had not taken up the seventh string introduced by his father and common in France by the early 1700s. The manuscript used for this recording was probably compiled between 1703 and 1707, starting after the elder Sainte Colombe died, in 1701 at the latest. The younger Sainte-Colombe might have come to England by this time.
Remond de Saint Mard, an eighteenth century writer, describes a natural son of Sainte Colombe, possibly our composer, as a" simple man ... who had not enough imagination to lie," recounting how his father moved a listener to tears with a sarabande. His works indicate that he was deeply influenced by his father's style, and that unlike many cases of falling-off in the second generation, he became as brilliant a composer. In view of the technical mastery of his compositions, it is puzzling that he left so few other traces in musical history. He seems eventually to have become an obscure viol teacher in England, just at the time the instrument was falling into disuse.
We are lucky that his music can tell us more than the few meager known biographical facts. Of Sainte Colombe's viol pieces, a full thirty-six survive in a large anthology ( MS A 27) collected by Philip Falle (1656-1742), a canon of Durham, and now housed at the Durham Cathedral Library. Falle, who traveled to Paris and the United Provinces, brought back a number of viol manuscripts, among them works by Marin Marais, Johann Schenck, Carel Hacquart, and Jean Snep, from which he copied out his favorite passages. MS A 27 also includes various pieces, mostly French, many unpublished and otherwise unknown. Among these are Sainte Colombe the younger's, to which graces were added in a different ink after the manuscript was first copied. This may suggest that Falle knew the composer personally, or even that he may have studied with him.
The elder Sainte Colombe's influence, both as father and -- likely-- teacher is very much in evidence, both in composition and instrumental technique.Though written at the beginning of the eighteenth, young Sainte Colombe's music was deeply rooted in seventeenth century tradition. Which is not to suggest any lack of brilliance and originality in the younger composer. The son clearly retains something of his father's improvisational verve, but places it in a more balanced, less "baroque" framework. Of the two, it is likely the son who had the greater compositional skill, but one based on a foundation he owes to the older man. It can be seen, for example, in the harmonic progression, often found in the father's d-minor preludes, that appears here in the son's e-minor and b-minor preludes, or in the son's employment of his father's characteristic broken-chord formulas.
Unlike his father, he was not given to the picturesque titles common in late French lute music. In the matter of form, except for his Fantaisie en Rondeau, all the dances can be found in his father's work, to which they remain close in style. Sometimes this is the chordally-oriented "jeu d'harmonie" favored by Demachy, sometimes the purely melodic. His preludes, although more concise than his father's, share the time and tempo changes that are rare in other composers of the period. The dances recall the elder Sainte Colombe's, but without his penchant for phrases of irregular length. However, his second e-minor courante with a panting dotted rhythm which breaks off only at the final cadences has no parallel in earlier French viol music. If it resembles anything, it is not Sainte Colombe the elder but the Fantaisie Luthee from the second book of Marin Marais. Likewise the tonalities young Saint Colombe chooses. Only his g-minor and f-major recall his father; b-minor appears only in the second book of Marais (1701), who undertook f-minor only in his third book (1711).
Again unlike his father, the younger Sainte Colombe seems to have himself organized his pieces in distinct suites. There are definite thematic threads running through several movements of a suite, as for example prelude and gavotte in e-minor, allemande, sarabande, and gigue in b-minor. One can also discern thematic relations in pieces with different tonalities, such as preludes in a- and b-minor, sarabandes in a- and b-minor, and fantaisie en rondeau in g-minor. In the manuscript his name "M. De Ste Colombe, le fils"is affixed only at the end of the e-minor, a-minor, and b-minor suites. In the suite in g-minor, which has its last two movements cut off by the introduction of another suite, and in the pieces in f-minor, his name appears at the end of each separate movement.
The Tombeau de Mr de Sainte-Colombe le pere, written in honor of his father, is in its sweep and expressive density one of the most remarkable pieces in the viol repertoire of the period. Moving away from the lutenist tradition in which a tombeau was nearly always an allemande or a pavane, it can be compared in its complex form with some of the great preludes for solo viol by Sainte Colombe the elder, and bears direct comparison with the celebrated Tombeau for two viols, but is even of a vaster scale. The descending motif in parallel thirds in the first part may stem from Charon's call in the earlier Tombeau; certainly the lively, unexpected dance that ends the piece, coming after the Despair section, echoes the Joys of Elysium which concludes the earlier piece.
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