JEAN-FRANCOIS DANDRIEU
1682 - 1738

  When one thinks of French harpsichord music in the 18th century, two names spring to mind, those of François Couperin, "Couperin the Great," and Jean-Philippe Rameau. There is no doubt that they wrote remarkable music and that they deserve their reputation. But we must not forget that French harpsichord music reached its zenith at the beginning of the 18th century thanks to a whole generation of musicians, which included, besides Couperin and Rameau, such luminaries as Louis Marchand, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, François Dieupart, Jean-François Dandrieu, and others. Some of these were famous in their time, but when they died, their fame died with them, until they were given back the place of honor they deserve in the 19th and especially the 20th century. Recall, for example, that François Couperin was rediscovered thanks to the edition of his harpsichord works by Brahms in 1888. A similar fate befell Dandrieu, the organist of Louis XV, who is still unknown to the public at large, but whom a number of musicians and musicologists have come to appreciate thanks mainly to the work of Brigitte François-Sappey  

"Sa musique est harmonieuse & chantante, elle est assez dans le caractère de celle du fameux François Couperin […] Sa composition est nette, belle, coulante & débarrassée de cette harmonie recherchée, et de ces passages hazardés et brillans qui surprennent plus l'esprit qu'ils ne touchent et ne charment le cœur, qui aime une douce mélodie & une harmonie naturelle et bien variée . "

At the age of twenty-two Dandrieu was an established musician, both as a virtuoso on keyboard instruments and as a composer, and he became the official organist of Saint-Merry's , succeeding Henri Mayeux, himself successor, in 1699, to Nicolas Lebègue. Around this time, in 1704, he published his first compositions, three volumes of works for the harpsichord; the next year, in 1705, a book of trio sonatas for two violins and basso continuo; and in 1710, a book of sonatas for violin and basso continuo.
During the Regency of Philip of Orleans there was a sea change in his career, as he obtained one of the four posts of organist at the Royal Chapel, which he was to occupy for the rest of his life. This was the period of his mature compositions, including three volumes of works for the harpsichord, published between 1724 and 1734-we will come back to them presently-and his first volume of organ works, published posthumously in 1739.

(La Plaintive, La Bouillonante, Les Cascades, l'Etourdie, Les Oiseaux, Mascarade …)

 

 

This first suite ends in the renowned divertissement "Characters of War." Renowned indeed, as it was originally published as a symphonic piece by Ballard in 1718 and was immensely successful in that form. It may well have been the biggest success in Dandrieu's entire career, and he had no qualms about publishing a harpsichord reduction, first in this "First Book", and later, encouraged by its success, as a separate work in 1733.

 

 

 

But reducing this work for a military-style ensemble to one for a plain harpsichord has its problems, notably in its harmony, which in its imitation of military bugle calls is elementary, to put it mildly. And yet these "Characters" are technically interesting, on account of their many virtuoso and expressive figurations typical of the harpsichord.

Texts from Bernard Mouton, translation Guy Tops (CD Betty Bruylants)

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