Towards the end of Volume 2 of the Suzuki Violin Repertoire, there’s a charming little gavotte attributed to the French baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). It’s based on a 1904 arrangement by the German violinist Willy Burmester, which you can hear in this old recording played by Carl von Garaguly. It’s likely that Shinichi Suzuki heard this arrangement in his twenties when he was studying in Berlin with another German violinist Karl Klinger.
Cellist Mischa Maisky included Burmester’s “Lully Gavotte” on his 1990 Deutsche Grammophon album, Meditation with pianist Pavel Gililov:
Elegant as it is, Burmester’s arrangement is similar to a pop singer’s far-reaching cover of a twenty-year-old song. The melody is the same, for the most part, but it bears little resemblance to the original.
Contemporary musicians generally approach early music with stylistic accuracy and historically informed performance as a starting point. But it’s worth remembering that nineteenth and early twentieth century musicians took a freer, less deferential approach, reinterpreting the music through the lens of their time. You can hear this in Willy Burmester’s beautifully singing recording of Handel’s Arioso. His Gavotte en rondeau from J.S. Bach’s Third Partita includes portamento and even piano accompaniment, an addition which, today, would rightly be considered sacrilegious.
But let’s strip away all of the superfluous nineteenth century confection and hear the music as it might have originally sounded. In order to return to the source, we have to acknowledge that, while long attributed to Lully, this music was actually written by Lully’s student, French composer Marin Marais (1656-1728). One of the finest viola da gamba players of his time, Marais performed in the royal court of Versailles and frequently conducted Lully’s operas.
The actual title is Rondeau in D minor, no.24. It’s a short excerpt from a large collection of music called Premier livre de pièces à une et à demux violes, published in 1686. Marais dedicated the collection to Lully. Here is an excerpt from the title page:
To Monsieur de Lully, squire, …, Secretary of the Royal House, Crown of France and his Finances and Superintendant of his Majesty’s Music. Sir, I would commit an inexcusable fault if, having the honor of being one of your students and you having so many obligations to me in particular, I did not offer you the works that I learned here in playing your learned and admirable compositions. I present therefore this collection, and as my supervisor and as my benefactor…
Here is Philippe Pierlot and Ricercar Consort:
Marais’ Chaconne for Solo Viola da Gamba
The viola da gamba, used throughout Renaissance and baroque music, originated in Spain in the mid to late fifteenth century. Here is a Chaconne for Solo Viola da Gamba by Marin Marais. You can learn more about the chaconne, built on a repeating bass line, in this past Listeners’ Club post.
A Gavotte by Lully
If you came to today’s post expecting to hear the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, here is a real gavotte by Lully. It’s elegant Ballet Music for the Sun King: