In each new recording that he makes of viola da gamba music (and that includes his own ‘contemporary’ offerings such as Improvisando), Paolo Pandolfo has a knack of reaching for and grasping the essence from within the musical scores in front of him. It is not just his technical mastery or an allied assiduous study of the sources – be it of Bach or Marais or Abel – but that more intangible ability to make such music – as here with four Suites by ‘Le Sieur de Machy’ from 1685 – jump off the page and come alive. De Machy’s world was that of Paris in the heyday of Le roi soleil, Louis XIV, and for all that the composer’s biography is today somewhat scant and shadowy (what was his first name? We do not know for sure), his Suites forming the Pièces de Violle vividly and vivaciously reflect the luxuriance and exuberance of the end of the 17th century in France, particularly through the means of dancing. De Machy also entered into a heated literary argument with a fellow viol player, Jean Rousseau, as to the ‘correct’ way of playing the instrument. Quite a set of demands, then, for a solo viola da gamba player to need to represent, but then that is the artistry of Paolo Pandolfo. Having also recorded more French viol music by Sainte-Colombe, what does Pandolfo himself think of De Machy, his music and his times?
Q: By the 1680s when De Machy was writing and publishing his Pièces de Violle... what was being expected from the viola da gamba as an instrument, and how and why did De Machy get embroiled in a querelle with Jean Rousseau? In what was a vigorous and heated debated was one side ‘right’ and another ‘wrong’, or what is your own verdict on this querelle?
A: This famous querelle, above all, is a sign of the vitality of the viola da gamba in France around 1680. The viol was vital part of the Chambre du Roi, to which in those years Marais had already been appointed. Playing an instrument was important for ‘gentlemen’, at least as much as other noble activities as fencing and dancing, and to excel in those arts was also a way to improve one’s position in society. A good teacher, dispensing ‘the true way of playing’ was certainly highly appreciated, so no wonder, if each of two players, such as De Machy and Rousseau were to try to attribute to himself the label of ‘best teacher’!
As to whether one was ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’, this is a delicate and complex question! However, we only have viol pieces by De Machy surviving – excellent viol pieces that they are – but no music is left by Jean Rousseau. Much of Rousseau’s theoretical writing is couched in a resonating, highfaluting style, whereas De Machy’s style is sober and precise in its instrumental and musical advices. Even if De Machy’s writing is not an isolated case of being full of musical fantasy, I feel closer to De Machy’s pragmatic way of giving musical advices; to me he comes over more like a ‘real’ master of his instrument. I also definitely feel closer to the more harmonic vision of the instrument of De Machy, which still gives value to today’s current special appreciation of the viol, as a self-sufficient bowed instrument, and one capable of expressing melodies and harmonies at the same time.
Q: What influence did De Machy have on other composers of the time, and on the music for the viola da gamba in general?
A: This was a time when influences were crossing over one other strongly among all the actors on scene: the Couperins, Sainte-Colombe, De Machy and, of course, Marin Marais. I can recognize De Machy’s – as well as Sainte-Colombe’s – influence, for instance, in the first books of Marais. There can also be an influence which continues today, with these eight suites for a solo bowed instrument, in that they can influence strongly our vision of a far more famous set of suites for solo bowed instrument, which is Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas.
Q: What demands does the music of De Machy place upon the player – and on the instrument? How do these demands differ from the somewhat later compositions for the instrument provided by JS Bach?
A: De Machy’s music is definitely less elaborate than Bach’s, but the clear and evident demand for self-sufficiency makes the playing of it far from being simple. It is no wonder that De Machy played also the lute, and according to Jean Rousseau was a close friend of Robert de Visée. The way notes have to be held in order to respect the polyphony, and the quality of the sound production that often has to approach a sense of resonating – such as one gets with the lute – as well as the complex ornamentation, all make De Machy’s music a crucial milestone in French baroque viol music.
Q: Is the music of De Machy available in a modern edition or did you have to do this yourself? How did you make your selection from the eight suites composed by de Machy for your new recording? What are the characteristic elements of De Machy’s work?
A: There is a beautiful facsimile (available from Minkoff) of De Machy’s Pièces de Violle currently available and I would like to point out particularly the elegance of the tablature pieces, which graphically represent a real work of art. There is also a good modern transcription (from Dovehouse), which is particularly handy for those who are not familiar enough with French tablature. At the beginning of this project, I would have liked to record the whole eight suites (thus, the entire book), but this would have required two CDs, not one! I played and played all eight suites, until I was able to choose four for the recording and I finally made it. It wasn’t easy, and maybe the other four suites will follow one day. Choosing the music for a CD also implies having an overall vision, imagining that someone would possibly listen to it from the beginning to the end and thereby the need to create a ‘story’, with development, expectations, surprises, and so on. Really, this is not so much different from creating a concert programme.
One idea that I had, however, wasn’t possible to turn into a reality: since I felt that much of this music draws directly in its origin from real dance, I would have liked to have heard on some tracks on the CD the noise that dancing feet make on a parquet floor, like a soft percussion accompaniment. For me, it would have had a strong evocative meaning. Maybe this recording will be used for the practicing of Baroque dance, in which case my idea will be materialized, but the other way around... In which case, even better!!
MARK WIGGINS© 2012 Glossa Music / Note 1 MusicPhotographs © Lee Talner