les pièces de clavessin

Music Monday: Les Pièces de Clavessin 1670

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Jacques Champion de Chambonnières
Image Credit: musimem.com

Three hundred, fifty years ago, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, a French harpsichordist and dancer, composed Les Pieces de Clavessin de Monsieur de Chambonnieres or Harpsichord Pieces.

Due to lack of manuscript sources, little is known about French harpsichord music of the first half of the 17th century and Chambonnières emerges as the sole, major composer of the time with a large surviving oeuvre (works of art). Some 150 pieces are extant, almost all of them dances. Sixty were published by the composer, himself, in 1670 in two volumes of Les Pièces de Clavessin and the rest are known through some 20 manuscript sources, most of which were discovered only in the mid and late 20th century.

Since the exact course of evolution of the classic French harpsichord style remains a mystery, it is impossible to ascertain the role Chambonnières played in establishing said style. He was obviously influenced by the French lute school, adapting its style brisé to the harpsichord and he may have been among the first to do so. Another important influence was a thorough grounding in counterpoint, probably transmitted from his grandfather Thomas through his father.

Harpsichord Pieces Image Two
Source: imslp.org
Image Credit: Wikipedia

[The] Pièces de Clavecin (published 1670) reflect in style and texture the compositions of the noted lutenist-composer Denis Gaultier and thus emphasize the roots of the early harpsichord style in lute music. The Pièces are highly ornamented, and rich in harmony, and are grouped by key into suites of dances […] and miniature pieces with fanciful titles. There is no thematic relationship between the movements of a single suite, the aim being rather for contrast within a given key. Chambonnières was one of the first to attach tables of ornaments to his works, indicating the manner of performance of the many embellishments so vital to his free-voiced style.

It appears that he had lavish tastes and struggled financially because of it. He lived beyond his means and died in poverty two years after his Harpsichord Pieces.

Additional Reading & Sources:
Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (Britannica)
Jacques Champion, Sieur de Chambonnières (Here of a Sunday Morning Site)
Chambonnières, Jacques Champion, Sieur de (Oxford Music Online)
List of Compositions (Wikipedia)

These are, roughly, two & half hours long, taken together.
The first one has a minute’s worth of spoken French at the beginning.