Clérambault: Soprano Cantatas and Sonatas
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Louis-Nicolas Clerambault (1676-1749)
Soprano Cantatas and Simphonies
Parisian Organist to the King, ofthe Royal Church of Saint-Cyr and the Parish Church of Saint-Sulpice, died inParis on 26th October 1749 in the 72nd year of his life, interred at Saint-Sulpice...
He left two sons who fill with distinction the positions he held as organist.
Evrard Titon du Tillet: Vies desMusiciens et autres Joueurs d' Instrument du r?¿gne de Louis le Grand (Livesof Musicians and Instrumentalists of the Reign of Louis the Great)
The Abbe Ladvocat, scholar of the first halfof the eighteenth century, did not hesitate, in order to give still furtherdistinction to the character of Louis-Nicolas Clerambault and increase therespect owed both the man and his art, to stress that the family of this famousmusician had been attached to the service of the King since Louis XI(1423-1483). The declaration may rest on slender foundations but shows clearlythe great fame that the musician enjoyed. It is true, all the same, that theClerambault family could pride itself on having been employed as musicians inthe royal service for many years. Dominique Clerambault (1644-1704), hisfather, played in the famous 24 Violins ofthe King, the Bande des Vingt-quatre Violonsalso known as the Grande Bande. Havingtaken over the position of Louis Bruslard in 1670, he kept it until 1681. Whilethis service does not go back to the fifteenth century, it establishes firmlythe background from which Louis- Nicolas Clerambault would benefit, rooted inthe best sources of French music in the seventeenth century. In fact the Grande Bande played a large part in thedevelopment of virtuoso performance in France and was at the forefront ofcontemporary music at the court of Louis XIV. It was there that the first ideaof the suite was conceived, stemming from the linked Airs de Ballet or varied melodies that produced thecelebrated form of the French overture. It was there again that the form of thesonata developed, in 1704, a form that would in turn lead to the birth of thesymphony.
Strengthened by this innovative spirit thatinspired French music from the second half of the seventeenth century onwards,even if the relative dullness of the end of the reign of Louis XIV tended tofix certain traditions, but above all strengthened by a repertoire of forms andmethods of performance in which he was brought up by his violinist father,Louis-Nicolas Clerambault completed his musical training with the organistsJean-Baptiste Moreau and Andre Raison. From the former he acquired a severityof style, the origin of which may doubtless be found in the connection ofJean-Baptiste Moreau to Saint-Cyr, founded by the very devout and austereMadame de Maintenon. There he learned both the art of composing serious vocalworks inspired by the work of Racine, then directed towards Jansenism, as wellas divertissements, interm?¿des and choruses from tragedies, intended for thegreat Jesuit colleges as well as the Demoiselles de Saint-Cyr. With AndreRaison he found the continuation of the tradition of Nivers, making use of allthe wealth of colourful organ registrations and the taste for rhythmicsubtleties that Raison developed in impressive improvisations. Finally,Louis-Nicolas Clerambault shared with Nivers the organ of the royalestablishment of Saint-Cyr, the organ that his master Moreau had played sincethe foundation of the establishment in 1686 and to which Nivers had succeeded.
There he supervised the music lessons of the boarders. He was given theofficial appointment at Saint-Sulpice in 1715, succeeding Nivers, whom he hadserved as deputy for many years. Finally, he was nominated as organist of theJacobins of rue Saint Jacques in 1720. From 1697 his position had allowed himto publish Airs, then, in duecourse, a Livre d' Orgue and a Livre de Clavecin, as well as sonatas andsymphonies that put him in the first rank of composers towards the end of thereign of Louis XIV. His fame spread still further with the publication between1710 and 1726 of his Livres de cantates.
Evrard Titon du Tillet, music chronicler ofthe Grand Si?¿cle, bears witnessto his brilliant career: Clerambault wasknown for the expert manner in which he played the organ; but what added mostto his reputation was his wonderful talent for cantatas, where he excelled; hehad the honour of performing them before Louis XIV, when His Majesty heard themwith pleasure: this prince had several cantata texts given the composer, whichhe set to music, and which were performed in the apartment of Madame de Maintenon:it is these that make up the third Book of his Collection. The King was verysatisfied with them and appointed him Superintendent of the Private Concerts ofMadame de Maintenon.
From then on his career was launched, withSaint- Cyr and the most famous organs, the ear of the court... then the ConcertSpirituel. Established in 1725 in order to give concerts of musique de chapelle on the days when theAcademie Royale de Musique had time off by reason of religious holidays, theConcert Spirituel from 1727 welcomed cantatas in French suited to the seriousnature of the programmes proposed. The cantatas of Louis-Nicolas Clerambault,which could hardly have been suspected of levity, since they were regularlysung at Saint-Cyr, won great success. From 1728 Orphee, Leandre et Hero and Lamusette were sung several times. The following year MademoiselleAntier of the Academie Royale de Musique won acclaim when she performed, withher majestic voice, Alphee et Arerhuse andLe Soleil vainqueur des nuages (TheSun, Conqueror of the Clouds), an occasional piece written in 1721 for therecovery of the King's health. In addition to this, every fortnight thecomposer gave in his house in the rue du Four private concerts that attractedmany music-lovers. It was there that the master's sonatas, 'simphonies' andother instrumental compositions were tried out.
If Clerambault's activity as a composer sloweddown in the last decades of his life, the brilliance of his reputation did notgrow any the less up to the end of the century and his most famous workscontinued to be performed regularly in various public concerts.
The Cantatas ofClerambault are in five Books, each containing six or seven Cantatas,of which some are for two and even threevoices, with symphonies apart from these five books, there are some other Cantatasfor particular occasions.
Evrard Titon du Tillet: Vie des Musiciens et autres Joueurs d' Instrument dur?¿gne de Louis le Grand
The cantatawas a new form. Its model, Italian in origin, the cantata, was introduced into France at theturn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Like the related form, the sonata, it was at first the preoccupationof a clique of enthusiasts for Italian music, but it soon became French, takingthe form of a piece in which recitatives and varied arias presented a briefdramatic situation. Borrowing at first from the language of allegory and livelymime the cheerful imitations of Italian music, this hardly suited the needs ofthe court. Its success was elsewhere, in the salons, rooms and celebrations ofprivate people of means. The Grandes Nuitsde Sceaux devised to distract from bouts of insomnia the Duchesse duMaine marked the height of the form.
With Louis-Nicolas Clerambault, however, thecantata followed another path. It drew sustenance from the grand style of thetheatre