Saturday, September 15, 2007

Marin Marais (1656-1728)

Sierra Club


During the period when the French viol school led all of Europe in viol virtuosi (1675-1770), Marin Marais (b. Paris, 31 May 1656, d Paris, 15 August 1728) was the premier French composer and bass viola da gamba player. Marais spent all his life in Paris and the majority of it in musical service to King Louis XIV; as a boy, he sang in the choir at St. Germaine-l'Auxerrois; sometime after his voice broke, he studied viol with Monsieur Sainte Columbe. M. Sainte Columbe is a mysterious figure: in life, he was a recluse and so little is known of him today that the only first name he is known by is "Monsieur." Sainte Columbe was a much sought after gambist and wrote some of the best and most challenging viol compositions to date; it was he who added the seventh string to the bass viol. Marais studied with the Master for only six months; in that short time, it is rumored, that Marais had surpassed Sainte Columbe. Marais returned to Versailles to play for the King in 1676; within three years he was appointed Ordinaire de la chambre du Roi pour la viole. He studied composition with Lully and wrote four operas during this period; Marais remained at Versailles until his retirement in 1725. His position was beqeathed his son Vincent; Marais had 19 children, and many were well known musicians.

Marais is the most prolific composer of viol music: his most important compositional works were published in five collections, or books, between 1686 and 1725. These books (livres) contain more than 550 compositions for one, two, or three viols and figured bass. The vastness of this accomplishment is furthered by the range of originality, variety, and artistic expression of the pieces therein. They are still considered the pre-eminent literature for bass viol; the Pieces de violes contained in the Livres are of two distinct styles: the melodic and the harmonic. The melodic style uses sublimely simple melodic expression combined only with ornamentation and simple cadential chords. The harmonic style often resembles true counterpoint; through extremely clever combination of melody and chords, the music expresses richly complex interwoven textures. The Livres were designed to satisfy the needs for gambists of varied playing abilities. Marais also composed a variety of instrumental music. [Adapted from Karadar]


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