When thinking about the literature for viola da gamba as a solo instrument, it is likely than the name of Marin Marais will crop up, on the strength of the publication of his five books of “Pièces de Viole” appeared from 1686 to 1725. A legitimate curiosity arises then to know what was the musical environment of the XVII century in France, with 

particular reference to the solo literature for viola da gamba. The following hints, far from being read in evolutionary terms, should invite the reader to consider the value of the music in its own terms and merits.


Dubuisson, whose real name was probably Jean Lacquemant and whose date of birth and death of 1622 and 1681 span the central part of the XVII century, must have been both a witness and a main actor in a florid time of experimentations and transcriptions of lute music on the viol. This would then gradually lead to composing original works. A similar process was carried out and ongoing at the same time by harpsichordists, for example by Louis Couperin (1626-1661), himself also a viol player, and later on by Jean-Henry d'Anglebert (1629-1691) and Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729).


A significant reference to Dubuisson and his style of music appears in an exchange of correspondence between two celebrated authors of that century, these being Jean Rosseau and the Sieur de Machy. The former describes the style of Dubuisson as being based on counterpoint, obsolete, complicated, and featuring multiple stops that were to be an obstacle to the pure simplicity of a melody line. The reply of the latter to this point is to be found in the preface of his own publication of the “Pièces de Viole” appearead in 1685. He argues there that a person can have an excellent hand in playing nice and agreeable melodies, though simple, yet he should be compared to someone playing perfectly on a keyboard with only one hand. This testimony provides us with a hint of how highly regarded the old style of playing was, the “jeu d'harmonie”. This style was proper of the luth, instrument extremely popular in France of the XVII century. Names such as Robert II Ballard (1572-1650), Ennemond Gaultier (1575-1651), René Mézangeau (1568-1638),  Denis Gaultier (1603-1672) , Germaine Pinel (1600-1661), Francois Dufaut (1604-1672), Jacques Gallot (1625?-1695?) together with the contemporaries of Dubuisson, such as Charles Mouton (1626?-1699?) and the future generations of Robert de Visée (1655?-1732) come to mind. The close relation between the lute and the viol is thus manifest in their music; they also share some common features in their construction, and both use tablature as a form of notation. Besides, many violists were also lutenists, Nicolas Hotman (1610?-1663) as a notable example. Among its pupils, both the already mentioned de Machy and the Sieur de Saint Colombe (fl. 1680-1701) were to be found.


In the emergence of a violistic idiom, if one strand is the inheritance of the music for lute, the other one, equally relevant, is the transmission of experience coming from the English school. In fact, frequent and prolific exchanges between France and England, eased by the strong ties of their respective Royal families, were to be instrumental in this process. We can quote André Maugars (1580?-1645) as an example of this. His journeys to England, and his ability to extemporise upon a ground are well documented in contemporary sources.


The sources of the music of Duibuisson date back perhaps as early as in the1650s. These consist of five different collections that feature works by various composers, in the handwriting of multiple copyists. They can be found in five locations, among which the Warsaw Friends of Music Library, the “Biblioteque National de Paris”, and the Library of Congress in Washington.


On approaching the works by Debuisson we are facing an extremely fluid situation.  The suite, as an established musical form that we are familiar with and that was bound to play a major role in the compositions of the following century, does not exist yet. Therefore, a suite is not presented in a ready-made format. The final choice regarding both the number of pieces and their appearing order will be left to the performer. We are dealing in this instance, with collections whose pieces share a common key, but are not necessarily in order of performance, and not numbered too. It is a context fairly identical to the collection of pieces by Louis Couperin, and that will remain in the publications by Marin Marais. Ultimately, the freedom provided to performers is quite extensive, according to their needs, tastes, and abilities. In some cases, the order of the pieces as they appear in the manuscript of the Library of Congress, features a central core of Allemande-Courante-Sarabande-Gigue, leaving the choice limited to one Prelude among the different ones proposed.


For the modern performer, another choice to be tackled, in order to recreate the spirit of this music, is concerned to what type of viol to use. Not very far away in the years to come, the works of both de Machy and Saint Colombe will specifically need the seven-stringed type. In fact, the latter is traditionally ascribed with the introduction of the seventh low string. In the works by Dubuisson, the range does not exceed the low C. This can be easily obtained by the “scordatura” tuning recommended by Christopher Simpson. Therefore, I have used a six-stringed viol for this recital, with an all gut set up and tuned to the French pitch of a=392 to highlight its dark colours. Besides, it is a lyra viola, featuring six additional sympathetic strings. The usage of “d'amore” instruments fitted with resonance strings was well widespread. As an example, we have a testimony relating August Kühnel (1645-1700) playing his own pieces with such a type of viol. Ultimately, when looking at the “stil brisé” as the right descendant of the chordal and horizontal polyphony typical of the English lyra, the choice of this instrument results as a functional one.


It is noteworthy to draw our attention to the catalogue compiled by the Viola da Gamba Society of Great Britain, where the pieces of Dubuisson are listed. This will prove extremely useful to the performer wishing to organise them in a collection of suites. On my side, I have shaped these suites that I present here according to my taste for variety, this inspired by the natural contrast of each key. Each of the latter reflects a particular colour within the standard tuning of a viol. I wish my colleagues of the viola da gamba community to take the same route, following their own personal tastes.


Oreste De Tommaso