Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Musical Tombs

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the musical world in Europe was almost like an extended family, composers and performers had a closer relationship than they usually do today. Music was the Bach family business for three hundred years as I talked about in this post.

One manifestation of this kind of communal feeling was a particular musical genre called the tombeau. This is just the French word for "tomb", but musically it was a lamenting piece written on the death of a musical friend, usually in the form of an allemande. Originating and practiced most by lutenists in Paris, it also spread to Germany. There are even modern examples by de Falla and Ravel.

Wikipedia has a good article on the tombeau in which they cite an example, the "Tombeau de Mézangeau" by the lutenist Ennemond Gaultier dating from 1638 as being the earliest known tombeau. Wonder of wonders there are not one or two, but six performances of this piece on YouTube. Here is a very fine version by Hopkinson Smith:

Ennemond's cousin Denis Gaultier was another lutenist who wrote tombeaux. Here is one in pavan form titled "Pavan ou Tombeau de M. Raquette":

The clavicenistes (harpsichordists), another close-knit bunch, also started writing tombeaux. The most famous examples are among four tombeaux written on the death of a very popular lutenistCharles Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher, known principally under the name Blancrocher. After a tragic accident where he died following a fall down a flight of stairs, no fewer than two lutenists and two harpsichordists wrote tombeau in his memory. Denis Gaultier's is not on YouTube under that name, but it is also titled "Andromede":

The other lutenist-composer was François Dufaut. Here is a performance by Hopkinson Smith again:

Here is Gustav Leonhardt playing the tombeau by Louis Couperin, the uncle of François Couperin le grand:

The last of these four tombeaux on the death of M. Blancrocher is the one by Johann Jakob Froberger. Here is a dramatic performance by Bob van Asperen on a harpsichord dating from around 1680:

Among later examples is one often-performed one by Silvius Leopold Weiss, lutenist and friend of J. S. Bach. Here is the "Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy" played by Robert Barto:

The tombeau lay dormant for the rest of the 18th and all of the 19th century, but saw a small revival in the early 20th century. There are two famous examples. The first is "Le Tombeau de Couperin" by Maurice Ravel written between 1914 and 1917. There are six movements, each dedicated to the memory of a friend of the composer who died in World War I. In the music, Ravel revives various historical forms such as the fugue, forlane and rigaudon making this an example of neo-classical style. Here are the movements:

I. Prélude "To the memory of Lieutenant Jacques Charlot"
II. Fugue "To the memory of Jean Cruppi"
III. Forlane "To the memory of Lieutenant Gabriel Deluc"
IV. Rigaudon "To the memory of Pierre and Pascal Gaudin"
V. Menuet "To the memory of Jean Dreyfus"
VI. Toccata "To the memory of Captain Joseph de Marliave"

Here is a performance by Alexandre Tharaud:

And finally, one last tombeau, this time in memory of Claude Debussy by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and written for guitar. The title is alternatively "Homenaja" or "Hommage à Debussy" and it was written in 1920 and published in a special edition of La revue musicale devoted to the memory of Debussy. There is an interesting innovation in this tombeau as towards the end there is a brief quotation from Soirée dans Grenade by Debussy. Here is a fine version by Julian Bream:

And that's the history of the musical tombeau.


Rickard Dahl said...

I had no idea the tombeau is a type of musical "form" (genre would be a better word I suppose). Then again I was only familiar with Ravel's tombeau (although I did know about Hommage a Debussy but not that it was a tombeau). Useful and nice information to me. If you intend to do more posts about forms/genres maybe you could try to explain the dances from reneissance and baroque (such as pavannes, galliards, allemandes, sarabandes, gavottes etc.). I have only a vague understanding of these dance forms but mainly because the descriptions seem to be so vague (although maybe they vary alot and are hard to define).

Bryan Townsend said...

I did do one post on forms and genres that I think would answer some of your questions. Here it is:

Rickard Dahl said...

"The dance genres are responsible for the different tempos and the internal rhythmic structure." That's a good way to summarize it but I was wondering about the specifics, for instance specific rhythmic structures. I suppose the best way to find out what is to study the scores and listen to the music.

Bryan Townsend said...

There are a lot of dance genres from the jig and reel to the minuet and gavotte, to the zapateado and sevilla, to the loure and rigaudon and on and on!!

I would start with the Wikipedia articles on the individual dances just to get oriented and then go to the music and scores.