French Classical Music - an illustrated lecture by David Gibbs at Kendal Parish Church
Saturday 25th January 2003

Review by Tracker

One could be excused some concern at the likely turn-out at such an erudite intellectually challenging event. However, there were 15 of us ready to soak up David's fountain of knowledge about a subject most of us have little familiarity with.

As its name implies, this music is uniquely French, Louis 14 having got rid of any alien influences from other countries. David summarized the style as being based on the voice with a lightness of execution requiring an input of airy silences and strong rhythms. Although the style overlapped the German Baroque they were separate with the French style not having the sonorous counterpoint of Bach but sharing the same appeal to dance forms. The French style and the French organ were both part of the music and David unravelled such mysteries as Tierce en taille, plein jeu, Grand plein jeu, Grands jeux explaining that different pieces such as Dialogue, Recits de Cromhorne, etc. required specific prescribed tonal colours. Those of us who have difficulty playing notes as they are printed may be dismayed to learn that notes printed with equal lengths may be played unequally in order to project the style in its idiomatic form.

David played some excerpts from the repertoire of Couperin Clerambault and De Gringny on the 'Willis' organ.

After a welcome cup of tea David concluded his talk by playing some pieces on the very English Bevington in order to illustrate that despite a French organ of the period not being available, we should not be deterred from playing this music, but David recommended that information about such matters as 'notes inegalite' and ornamentation should be obtained from texts (e.g. Chapter 7 in Hurford's 'Making Music on the organ') before launching out in a voluntary. (Perhaps the vicar should not be asked to dress up as Louis 14?!)

The Chairman delivered his usual perorations of gratitude to David, to Hugh Davies for the use of the organs, and to the Church for its use.

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