Academic journal article Notes

A New Edition of Grigny. Premier Livre d'Orgue

Academic journal article Notes

A New Edition of Grigny. Premier Livre d'Orgue

Article excerpt

Nicolas de Grigny. Premier Livre d'Orgue (1699), with references to the copies of J. S. Bach and J. G. Walther. Musical text edited by Wayne Leupold and James David Christie. Preface by H. Joseph Butler, Lenora McCroskey, and Sandra Soderlund. Colfax, NC: Wayne Leupold Editions, 2015. [Acknowledgments, p. iv; preface, p. v-lxxiii; editorial principles, p. lxxiv-lxxv; score, p. 1-121; editorial and interpretive commentary, p. 122-59; bibliog., p. 160-62; appendix, p. 163-66. Pub. no. WL 500025. $55.]

The extant repertory of French baroque organ music is substantial. The contents of various livres d'orgue, from Guillaume Gabriel Nivers to Andre Raison, published between the 1660s and the 1710s, number well over one thousand pieces. In addition, there are significant collections in manuscript, notably the 400 works of the so-called Livre d'orgue de Montreal. And yet this represents but a tiny proportion of the music turned out by Parisian, let alone French organists over this period. The alternatim performance of liturgical items at First Vespers, Matins, Lauds, Terce, the Mass, and Second Vespers, and maybe also Compline required on a principal feast day the performance of some one hundred separate organ versets. There were many feast days during the year. And the ordinary Sundays were also celebrated with much organ music. In the course of a year, an organist would be required to turn out thousands of pieces. He could not survive such demands without being a fluent improviser. Which raises the question, what were all these published livres d'orgue for? Or more interestingly, how did their contents relate to the music commonly improvised within the liturgy? Insights into this aspect of the practice are afforded by the manuscript collections, some of which provided very clearly working musical resources for the loft, used by their owners, on the job. Such a collection might be MS Paris Conservatoire, Res. 476, which reveals two important aspects of the practice: the first, that organ versets were ordinarily short (the Mass Offertory always the exception) taking up scarcely more time than the plainchant with which they alternated (bearing in mind the slow tempo adopted in those days for the chant); the second, that the level of musical development was modest. We can also see something of these characteristics in the printed sources, in for instance the first and third livres d 'orgue of Nivers, collections of versets gathered together according to their church tone. It does not mean that the music lacks interest, sophistication, or indeed beauty, but it does mean that it is modest in scope. After all, it has a clear role to play in the liturgy, part of which is to not unreasonably extend the ritual.

But as we get to the end of the seventeenth century, we encounter in the 1690 Pieces d'orgue of Frangois Couperin a new development in the tradition. Couperin's organ versets (for the Mass) are at least twice as long, and twice as elaborate, as Nivers's (a tendency also revealed in the contemporaneous published work of Jacques Boyvin and Gilles Jullien, 1689 and 1690 respectively). Couperin was twentyone, but now well-established at St. Gervais in Paris, where he had been playing since his early teens. He was clearly a remarkable musician, and fluent improviser. Why did he choose to publish a book of pieces which on the face of it were too elaborate for normal use, or which at least pushed the boundaries of what was required of alternatim practice? The preface by Michel Richard de Lalande makes that clear: to project to a wider public his superlative qualities as an organist and composer. Lalande's approbation speaks of the pieces as being "very beautiful and fully worthy of publication." And the gambit paid off. Three years later, in 1693, Couperin was appointed one of the king's organists at Versailles. So, a publication could be as much about showing off prowess as about providing for the liturgy. This is how we must view Nicolas de Grigny's Premier livre d'orgue of 1699. …

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