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Bouteiller: Requiem Pour Voix D'hommes / Niquet, Le Concert Spirituel

Release Date: 11/30/2010 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 921621  
Composer:  Henri FrémartPierre BouteillerMarc-Antoine CharpentierPierre Hugard,   ... 
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BOUTEILLER Requiem for Male Voices. BROSSARD Stabat Mater Hervé Niquet, cond; Le Concert Spirituel (period instruments) GLOSSA 921621 (62:11 Text and Translation)

I’ve certainly received my fair share of the unfamiliar for this review cycle. First there was Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667–1737), and now there are Pierre Bouteiller (c.1655–1717) and Sébastien de Brossard (1655–1730). Of the Read more latter two, Brossard rang a remote bell, but Bouteiller was the mystery man of the month. If you haven’t heard of him either, don’t feel bad; he wasn’t all that well known in his own time, not likely due to lack of talent but to geographical distance from France’s musical nerve center, Paris. Troyes, Bouteiller’s home base, is less than 100 miles southeast of Paris, today, an hour and a half’s drive by car; but considering the roads and means of transportation in the late 17th century, the town might as well have been on the moon. Not only did the Parisian musical establishment take little notice of Bouteiller, but working as he did for a small-town cathedral, his access to vocal and instrumental forces was limited.

Given the labyrinthine booklet note, it’s hard to decipher the exact complement of voices and instruments Bouteiller was writing for in this 1693 Requiem. His manuscript calls for a mixed choir of five voice parts— dessus (sopranos), hautes-contres (male altos or countertenors), tailles (tenors), basses-taille (bass-baritones), and basses-contre (basses), accompanied by an ensemble of viols or violas da gamba and organ continuo. But Fannie Vernaz’s essay seems to suggest that Bouteiller, who had to make do with whatever singers and players were available, would have snatched urchins off the street in order to garner the forces he needed.

By way of explanation, we’re presented with a very complicated set of Hoyle’s rules for a game of musical chairs in which monks, clerics, and even nuns should be switched from one part to another depending on which voices were present and which not. Frankly, I couldn’t make heads or tailles of it. The only thing that can be said with any assurance, as Vernaz points out, is that having the Missa pro defunctis sung exclusively by male voices, and in the way the parts are laid out by Niquet for this performance, is only one of numerous combinations that historical documents and period practices would seem to support.

Anna Picard of The Independent did not care much for Niquet’s choices or the performance. Reviewing this recording in the November 14, 2010, edition of the British paper, she wrote, “In line with 17th-century performance practice, the dessus line is sung down an octave, leaving Le Concert Spirituel’s febrile hautes-contres flapping like fish on a quayside. The viol and organ playing is superlative, but the consort singing is poor.”

Leaving aside the performance and Niquet’s editorial decisions, which I don’t feel qualified to judge, I can tell you that Bouteiller’s Requiem sounds like something written much earlier. Take away the instrumental accompaniment, and many moments of the piece could pass for the late Renaissance polyphony of the Franco-Flemish school. Add the instrumental accompaniment back in, and other moments of the piece seem to come from the first decades of the 17th century, sounding perhaps like something by Praetorius, Sweelinck, or Schütz. If Bouteiller was aware of musical developments that took place during the second half of the 17th century, his Requiem doesn’t reflect it.

This is not to say the music isn’t beautiful; actually, it’s gorgeous. Nor do I have a problem with the performance as Picard does; it strikes me as deeply felt and entirely in keeping with the spirit of the piece.

On that subject more needs saying, for what we get in both Bouteiller’s Requiem and Brossard’s complementary Stabat Mater goes a good deal beyond what’s listed in the headnote.

Niquet supplements both works with instrumental meditations that, in actual observance of an Office of the Dead, are likely to have been inserted between movements. Thus, he gives us a speculative reconstruction of a complete liturgical service, doing likewise in the Stabat Mater . Whether this practice would have been observed in services other than the Mass, I don’t know. In any event, the added instrumental movements are not by either Bouteiller or Brossard, but by a number of their French contemporaries, namely, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Henri Frémart, Pierre Hugard, and Louis Le Prince.

If not for the longer-lived and more cosmopolitan Brossard, Bouteiller might not have even made it into the footnotes of music history, for it was Brossard who edited and cataloged Bouteiller’s works. Brossard wrote his Stabat Mater in 1702 for the choir of the Cathedral of Meaux. For all his effort on behalf of Bouteiller, Brossard is today almost as anonymous as the composer whose music he championed. Brossard did, however, enjoy a good deal of recognition in his lifetime. He founded the Academy of Music in Strasbourg in 1687 and arranged Lully’s Alceste for performance there. He produced the first music dictionary in French, was appointed a vicar at the Strasbourg Cathedral, and amassed one of the most impressive music libraries of his time. It’s also claimed, though it strikes me as utter nonsense, that in discussions of musical mathematics with the English inventor Samuel Morland, Brossard “deduced the role that a major third versus a minor third plays in differentiating a major scale from a minor scale.” Surely that was “deduced” much earlier, like sometime in the Middle Ages. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician or a musician to grasp that the third degree of the scale is the crucial determinant of modality. Methinks that the night Morland and Brossard had that conversation both may have had a bit too much to drink.

In listening to Brossard’s Te Deum, it becomes clear why he took such an interest in the music of Bouteiller. Musically, the two composers are peas in a pod. Their styles are so similar as to be almost indistinguishable. Brossard, however, would live several years later into the 18th century, and toward the end of his life, it’s said, “he enthusiastically embraced Italian music.” Perhaps in later works he did adopt a more modern style, but what references to Brossard I’ve come across seem to indicate that he didn’t compose much music of his own, his main occupations being those of a minor Church office holder, a collector and cataloger of the music of others, and a theorist and lexicographer.

As stated earlier, I can’t think of anything that sounds quite like these works without going back quite a ways in time. If you’re tuned into the music of from, say, about 1625 to 1650, Bouteiller and Brossard will bring you much pleasure; they did me. Pace Anna Picard, I find nothing to fault in the performances or the recording; and even if I did have some minor quibble, I’m sure we’ll not be seeing new recordings of these pieces anytime soon, if ever. So, recommended to those inclined.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Prélude by Henri Frémart
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Missa pro defunctis by Pierre Bouteiller
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 
Méditation by Henri Frémart
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Méditations pour le Carême: Excerpt(s) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1709 
Élévation by Pierre Hugard
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 
Méditation by Louis Le Prince
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Stabat mater by Sébastien de Brossard
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Period: Baroque 

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