The Ranums' Panat Times
Some comments on Gaëtan
In: "François Couperin
a-t-il menti deux fois?
Gaëtan Naulleau's "François Couperin a-t-il menti deux fois? ... l'enigme de la Sonate (H.548)," pp. 175-184, literally goes right to the heart of the Musing I wrote ten years ago, about "Les Arts Florissants and the Canticum for the Virgin (H.340) that follows it in cahier 47".
A possible venue: the Feste de Ruel?
G. Naulleau's article focuses on Charpentier's Sonate, which he proposes was composed as a part of the Feste de Ruel, a work that was to be the centerpiece of the abortive festivities planned at Rueil by the Duke of Richelieu for September 1685. To support his argument, Naulleau raises every possible doubt ― some of them well-founded ― about my "spectacular" proposal that the Canticum (which almost certainly was written for a Guise-sponsored Academy of the Enfant Jésus for noble boys) might be linked to the unusually didactic little opera, Les Arts Florissants, and that the Sonate may also have been a part of an event at the Academy ― a live demonstration of the "beaux sons" the "divins concerts," and the "douce harmonie" that La Musique extolls in this little opera.
His hypothesis is appealing, founded, as it is, on similar orchestration, and on the fact that the Sonate clearly was not performed. I would concur willingly, except for one important consideration: the acoustics.
Did G. Naulleau take one very important performance consideration into account? The Feste de Ruel was going take place in the garden, around bubbling fountains and calmer reflecting basins. At best, the audience would have some problems hearing the singers although an optimist might hope that some of the sound would be bounced back in the audience's direction by the outer wall of the artificial grotto that served as a backdrop for the temporary stage. For an opera, these acoustical problems would be partially mitigated by colorful costumes, dramatic gestures, and the expressive blend of voices and instruments ― plus a printed libretto or livre de sujet that would aid comprehension of what was taking place.
Performing an instrumental sonata in such a setting was quite another matter. Indeed, why would Charpentier or the Duke envisage such a performance, in such a venue? Much of the sound produced by transverse flutes, string instruments, theorbe, and harpsichord would disperse before reaching the royal ears. The virtuoso récit for basse de viole would blur unbearably. Indeed, the sonata's success would depend on the ear alone, for although they might sway or bob their heads, the musicians were static, as if glued to their stools or music stands. In short, the eye could not compensate for what the ear was missing. If the Sonate was to be anything but a confusing blend of sounds, the instrumentalists would have to move their equipment away from the stage, and carry it closer to the armchair in which the King would be sitting ensconced ― a possible, but rather a unlikely solution to a serious acoustical problem.
G. Naulleau proposes an alternate venue (p. 183): a court performance of Orphée descendant aux enfers, where the Dauphin's Music joined the Guise musicians. This event almost certainly was held indoors, under conditions that would have been acoustically favorable to the Sonate. (But no less favorable than the acoustics at the Academy of the Enfant Jésus a major consideration in my proposing that venue for the Sonate.) Of course, we can discuss the planned venue and not reach a meaningful conclusion, for the simple reason that the Sonate apparently was never played! Several measures had been omitted from one of the parts and the gap apparently was not even noticed until much later, when a different hand added them to the partbook. (I blush to note that, in my Musing on Les Arts florissants, I forgot to let that fact shape the hypothesis I was proposing!)
G. Naulleau makes much of the fact that only a court musician was likely to be skilled enough to perform the récit for basse de viole in the Sonate (p. 181 ― and also p. 183, where he diverges from C. Cessac's identifications of the two Marchands, 2nd edition of her Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and fuses Louis Marchand with his father Pierre). Is Naulleau therefore implying that Etienne Loulié, the senior Guise musician, was incapable of performing this récit on the basse de viole? Not only does Loulié's death inventory refer to a basse de viole, but he also wrote a method for this instrument in the late 1680s, and he may well have taught its rudiments to the Duke of Chartres. In short, is the difficulty of a work sufficient grounds upon which to exclude the possibility that the Sonate was supposed to be performed at a Guise-sponsored event, with Guise household musicians rubbing shoulders with select outsiders, hired for the occasion? Indeed, as first cousin of the King, Mme de Guise enjoyed greater access to the musicians of Versailles than the Duke of Richelieu could ever hope to boast about.
Scholars should be aware that G. Naulleau misread a statement in my Musing about Charpentier's musical clefs. On page 180 he says that "la clef utilisée dans la Sonate [est] employée presque exclusivement dans ses manuscrits à partir de la fin des années 1680..." In reality, I say something very different: "By 1681 [Charpentier] had changed to [this new] clef, and he appears to have used that clef consistently in the Mélanges until at least the late 1690s." In short, I did not state that this clef was first used in the late 1680s; I say that it was used consistently from 1681 until the late 1690s. Since G. Naulleau cites that Musing in the context of a attempt to date the Sonate, it is essential that scholars realize that it could theoretically date from as early as 1681 and as late as the late 1690s.
"Suite" and "Suivez"
G. Naulleau takes issue with my understanding of what Charpentier meant by suite (pp. 179-80, and again on p. 181). He believes that I made an "erreur de lecture," because "la mention «suite» présente entre le petit opéra et le motet se trouve également au milieu des trois pages précédentes, dont au sein des Arts florissans! Il ne s'agit aucunement de «faire suivre» l'exécution des deux oeuvres: pour la commodité de la lecture et de la copie, Charpentier a seulement séparé d'une façon élégante deux systèmes de huit portées chacune, procédé très fréquent dans les Mélanges." Charpentier did indeed of use suite in this way throughout the Mélanges, and I pointed this out in my Musing on the Canticum. However, Charpentier occasionally used that word in a different context, to suggest that one section of a work "follows" another section, and was written for the same event. In short, the situation is less simple than G. Naulleau suggests. To explain how, back in the 1990s, I interpreted the signification of suite on that particular page, I have written a brief Musing about Suite and Suivez.
Would I interpret that use of "suite" the same way today that I did almost a decade ago? I can't say for sure! I would have to re-think all the new evidence, and go through every volume of the now-complete Minkoff facsimiles, looking for clues to Charpentier's intentions.