Dandrieu: Trois Livres De Pièces De Clavecin

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Catalog: BRI96125

Belder, Pieter-Jan

Jean-François Dandrieu was born in August or September 1682 on rue Saint-Louis, Île de la Cité, Paris. He was the eldest of at least four children and showed such musical precocity that it is reported he played the harpsichord for Louis XIV and his court at the age of five. It can be assumed that his reputation led to great demand for his services as a performer, since he travelled outside Paris as a musician on several occasions. He was not the first musical Dandrieu: his uncle, Pierre, trained as a priest and organist in Angers. It is possible that it was he who organised Jean-François’s studies with the harpsichordist and composer Jean-Baptiste Moreau, a fellow Angevin and near contemporary. The musical environment in which Dandrieu was raised was a period of considerable change. Paris saw the rise of a modish cultural élite with an increasing desire for new music, whether instrumental or vocal, and this was fed by several publications such as Mercure Galant (1678–1714), which reported not only on concerts and new music but also provided a modicum of artistic gossip to inform its readers which artists were currently in vogue. It has been mentioned that Dandrieu was renowned from an early age as a prodigy. While we know little else about his activities as a performer, the decision to publish his early compositions must have been based on the level of notoriety he had achieved. According to the catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the first book of harpsichord pieces was published in 1705, but there are no records of his legally required lettres de privilège being submitted to the Paris Guild of Booksellers for that year. Indeed, though records for November 1700–January 1704 are now lost, it is assumed the books were issued at some point between these dates, which would make him the youngest-known composer to have released a book of music. While Dandrieu’s early harpsichord pieces were written in the shadow of 17th-century composers, the three books published between 1724 and 1735 demonstrate a radically new direction for the composer. Such a shift can be attributed to changing tastes: harpsichord music as early as the last decade of the previous century shows a gradual distancing from many techniques that were primarily associated with the lute. Dandrieu, like most musicians, probably spent much of his earlier life as a teacher and would have been well aware of the abilities and tastes of those for whom the suites were written. They retain a naïve simplicity that is often lacking elsewhere. Nothing is too complicated: ornamentation is straightforward, textures tend towards two-part writing, and figuration always falls comfortably under the hand. The Premier livre finishes with what Dandrieu refers to as ‘a suite in its own right’ of ten tableaux: Les Charactères de la Guerre. It demonstrates Dandrieu’s propensity to revise earlier and possibly popular works to suit new media. The tableaux follow a tradition among composers for depicting battle scenes. The tradition continued in France until late into the 18th century with Claude-Bénigne Balbastre’s 1792 appeal to the revolutionaries in Marche des Marseillois.

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