Donald Macleod focuses on Delalande and Marais's early years.
This week Donald Macleod celebrates the life and music of Marin Marais and Michel-Richard De Lalande, successors to Lully at the Sun King's court.
The viol player Marin Marais's cache of admirers has grown in numbers since Gérard Depardieu appeared in a film based loosely on the musician's life. Prior to cinematic fame, according to Jordi Savall, who created the film's award winning soundtrack, Marais's legacy was valued in the main by fellow violists, musicians and musicologists.
Marais was the most brilliant bass violist of his generation. According to the eighteenth century chronicler, Evrard Titon du Tillet, after a mere six months Marais's virtuosity had outstripped his teacher's, a famous exponent of the instrument, Monsieur de Saint-Colombe. If we're to believe Tillet, while his teacher felt he had nothing more to show him, such was his passion to learn that Marais then hid underneath the secluded hut where his reclusive teacher would play, to listen, learn and further his own technique.
Marais's brilliance as a violist attracted the attention of Lully, the all-powerful Superintendant of the King's Music. Thereafter Lully took Marais under his wing, giving him a job in 1675 playing viol in the Opera orchestra; an appearance as the character "Dream playing a viol" in Lully's "Atys" brought Marais to the notice of Louis XIV. Officially he became "viol player in the Royal Chamber" on 1st August 1679. Figures vary wildly but Marais' legacy numbers something in the region of 500-700 pieces for the viol, published in five books, offering something for every occasion and standard of player. While some demand technical skill and advanced standards of musicianship, others were written with the less proficient performer in mind. His fertile and inventive imagination also turned to the publication of a landmark series of Trios and stage works.
This pairing brings Marais together with Michel-Richard Delalande, a composer who's probably best known through his contribution to church music, in particular the "grands motets" that formed an important part of royal services at Versailles. The 77 authenticated grand motets Delalande produced and then reworked over almost fifty years are widely regarded as reaching the high point of a genre that had been passed on by Lully and Henry Du Mont, the grand motet's creator. However Delalande also wrote ballets, entertainments and divertissements for the royal palaces and more famously suites of instrumental music for the King to enjoy during his meals.
Born a year after Marais, in 1657, Michel-Richard Delalande became the most pre-eminent composer at the court of Louis XIV. His was something of a rags to riches story. Rising from humble beginnings, after forty-three years of royal service, he was one of the few musicians who could afford his own coach, a three storey house in Paris, a country house, and an apartment near the Chateau at Versailles as well as a substantial collection of art and silver.
The popularity of Delalande's music extended far beyond those privileged enough to be able to attend the King's Mass. After 1725 and with the creation of Concert Spirituel concerts in Paris they were regularly performed for a wider public.
The story begins and indeed ends for these composers in Paris. The son of a shoe-maker, in 1667 at the age of ten, through the auspices of a well placed uncle, Marais is admitted to the prestigious royal church of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois choir school. There his path converges for the first time with Delalande, the son of a Parisian tailor. For both of them the musical training they receive there offers both education and social advancement.