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Review of Jean-Marie Poirier’s Tablatures

Poirier made an auspicious introduction to the world of early music with his appearance as Monsieur de Bures in the seminal French film, Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World, 1991). Starring Gerard Depardieu….  

Published in The Lute Society of America Quarterly, 52/1 (2018)

Tablatures: Gaultier, Lespine et Anonymes

Jean-Marie Poirier

Cornetto COR10, 2017

By Katharyn R. Benessa and Alexander Batov

In this lovely recording, Jean-Marie Poirier presents a selection of rarely performed works, primarily by French lute composers, Ennemond Gaultier (“La Vieux.” c.1575–1651) and Charles de Lespine (c.1580 – after 1627). He plays a 10-course lute built by Julien Stryjak (after Jean Desmoulins, 1644).

Poirier compiled the works for this recording after much research. While Gaultier “La Vieux” is known as a composer who was part of the transition to the “new tuning” — the d-minor tuning first associated with the emergence of 11-course lute in mid-seventeenth-century France — Poirier studied Gaultier’s earlier style, which still employed Renaissance tuning. Because of different spellings for Gaultier (Gothier, Gautier, Gotier) that appear in various manuscripts, he saw a need to identify the pieces by stylistic similarities – the process that eventually led to inclusion of a number of anonymous works in this collection with a possible attribution to the same author (i.e. Gaultier). To round out the recording, works by another French lute composer of the same era, Charles de Lespine (Lepin, L’Espine), who also wrote in the old tuning, are included. This collection of twenty-eight pieces has been grouped by key into suites, comprised primarily of preludes, allemandes, and courantes, with the courante significantly outnumbering other dance forms. 

Despite the preponderance of courantes, a broad degree of variety exists within this form. Typically in 3/2, 3/4 or 6/4, courantes range from simple settings of an attractive melodic line — these resemble song settings — to bouncy dances, or to those with more complex rhythms and a contrapuntal texture. In Poirier’s selection we hear all these guises of the courante. It is apt that the form is so heavily represented since it later became a favorite of the court, “Under Louis XIV, however, the courante became the most prominent dance of court balls, with the king, himself an accomplished dancer, performing the first courante of the evening.” (Little, Meredith Ellis, and Suzanne G. Cusick. 2001 “Courante.” Grove Music Online)

The opening Prelude in C Minor takes a leisurely tempo with a searching style appropriate for this introductory form. In works with compound melodies, Poirier brings out the syncopated dialogue as clearly as if it was played by two instruments. I was drawn to an especially attractive pair of a courante followed by a canarie in the C major suite (tracks 17 and 18). Despite the major key, the employment of darker harmonies in the courante creates an arresting contrast to the high energy, bouncy folk dance of the canarie. One notable exception to the dance forms is the plaint, Les Larmes (The Tears), a charming piece, which should be featured more often.

The final four tracks comprise the attractive Suite in C Minor by Lespine. Featuring a prelude, courante, balet, and volte, this set follows a pleasing slow-fast-slow-fast alternation. The pieces range from stately and homophonic, to imitative, concluding with a rousing dance, and yet they share a unified character, reflecting the style of the first decades of the seventeenth century. 

Poirier’s playing is charming and lightly ornamented. At climatic points in the music he softens the dynamics to bring out a sweet tenderness, ideally suited to this repertoire. In this compilation of twenty-eight early works sussed from a variety of manuscripts, Poirier has successfully carved out the “missing link,” as he puts it, of pieces written just prior to those in the new tuning. His liner notes list the sources he mined for these works, but lack the specific attribution for each piece. This could easily be remedied with additional information on his website: http://poirierjm.free.fr

Like so many lute players, Poirier’s initiation to music began with the guitar. He was soon drawn to the lute, theorbo, and the viola da gamba. Poirier made an auspicious introduction to the world of early music with his appearance as Monsieur de Bures in the seminal French film, Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World, 1991). Starring Gerard Depardieu and set during the reign of Louis XIV, the film features the tragic love story of viola da gamba composer, Marin Marais. For any early music aficionados this film is a must-see. Poirier has played in many ensembles and is currently performing with Thierry Meunier in A Due Liuti. His research was recently featured in the LSA Quarterly with the article, “The Lost Tradition of Lute Quartets” (52/1, 2017).