Susie Napper and Margaret Little, violas da gamba

Concerts a deux violes esgales by Sieur de Sainte-Colombe

“Napper and Little have momentarily penetrated the mists of time. Their ensemble in the unmeasured passages is like that of trapeze artists, trusting and perfectly timed.” Julie Anne Sadie, Gramophone Awards issue 2003

French chamber music of the 17th century, and particularly Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’s remarkable compositions for two bass viols, reveal an intimacy in musical expression often neglected in our perception of the Grand Siècle. This music reflects the growing taste for private pleasures, making use of a language which is at once moving and discreet, evoking a world where freedom and intimacy go hand in hand.

The dusts of time have shrouded most traces of the life of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. The romantic vision of the great gamba player depicted in Alain Corneau’s film Tous les matins du monde is gradually eroding as new facts surface. He was briefly thought to be one Augustin d’Autrecourt, an introverted recluse, but was soon reinstated as Jean de Sainte-Colombe, bourgeois de Paris, father of two daughters and a son, probably all musicians themselves. The Sainte-Colombes could well have been Huguenots and, as protestants, unwelcome at court.

Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe’s extraordinary collection of sixty-seven pieces entitled Concerts à deux violes esgales reveals the extremes of expressive possibilities of the viol. Employing a vast palette of timbres, Sainte-Colombe exploits the large tessitura of the instrument, indulging the particular sonorities of each register: the plaintive upper range, the haunting middle strings and the gruff bass.

This programme of contrasting Concerts offers a taste of Sainte-Colombe’s unique and moving musical language and insight into the 17th-century taste for experimental music.

Available at ATMA Classique : Les tendres regrets

Audio excerpt :  (Chaconne) Les Couplets by Sainte-Colombe

Sainte-Colombe : Menuet tendre et Gavotte

Sainte-Colombe : Les Roulades

Sainte-Colombe : Les Pleurs

Sainte-Colombe : Le Précipité