During the period when the French viol school led all of Europe in viol virtuosi (1675-1770), Marin Marais was the premier French composer and bass viola da gamba player

Marais spent all his life in Paris and the majority of it in musical service to King Louis XIV. As a boy, he sang in the choir at St. Germaine-l'Auxerrois. Sometime after his voice broke, he studied viol with Monsieur Sainte Columbe. M. Sainte Columbe is a mysterious figure. In life, he was a recluse and so little is known of him today that the only first name he is known by is "Monsieur." Sainte Columbe was a much sought after gambist and wrote some of the best and most challenging viol compositions to date. It was he who added the seventh string to the bass viol. Marais studied with the Master for only six months. In that short time, it is rumored, that Marais had surpassed Sainte Columbe.

Marais returned to Versailles to play for the King in 1676. Within three years he was appointed Ordinaire de la chambre du Roi pour la viole. Roughly translated, this means "Regular violist of the King's house." He studied composition with Lully and wrote four operas during this period. Marais remained at Versailles until his retirement in 1725. His position was beqeathed his son Vincent. Marais had 19 children.Many were well known musicians.

Marais is the most prolific composer of viol music. His most important compositional works were published in five collections, or books, between 1686 and 1725. These books (livres) contain more than 550 compositions for one, two, or three viols and figured bass. The vastness of this accomplishment is furthered by the range of originality, variety, and artistic expression of the pieces therein. They are still considered the pre-eminent literature for bass viol. The Pieces de violes contained in the Livres are of two distinct styles: the melodic and the harmonic. The melodic style uses sublimely simple melodic expression combined only with ornamentation and simple cadential chords. The harmonic style often resembles true counterpoint. Through extremely clever combination of melody and chords, the music expresses richly complex interwoven textures. The Livres were designed to satisfy the needs for gambists of varied playing abilities. According to Marais, the beginning of each book is designed for "beginners" and progressively advance to "expert" level. Marais also composed a variety of instrumental music.

Born in Paris in 1656. Marin Marais studied music from a young age and early on became one of the greatest viol-players of his area. Some reports from his time claim that in the space of only six months he surpassed the talents of his master Sainte Colombe.

By the age of twenty, he was playing in Lully's orchestra at the Court, and under the auspies of the master he perfected his composition technique. In 1679, he was appointed "Musician in Ordinary to the King's Chamber". He composed operas (alcide, Ariane et Bacchus, Alcyone, Semele), trios and, most important, five books of pieces for viol that were published between 1686 and 1725.

In the course of his compositions, his style evolved considerably, giving way each time more to the Italianism, which was gaining ground in French music. His talent is often compared to that of Antoine Forqueray, his younger contemporary, who was said to have played like a devil, while Marais played like an angel. Following his master Lully, but driven by an original inspiration, he became particularly renowned for this descriptive music: with the famous tempest in Alcyone, the Labyrinthe or the Tableau de I'operation de taille providing striking examples. Jordi Savall here completes the recording of the five books for bass viol with Astree (AUVIDIS), thus contributing to the rehabilitation in France and abroad of one of the greatest musicians of the Grand Siecle.

from Auvidis Records
about his music I
about his music II
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