Opening Voluntary: Duo – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Final Voluntary: Grand plein jeu – Louis-Nicholas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Our opening and closing voluntaries are both compositions of the French composer, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault. Clerambault was born in Paris in 1676 and came from a family of musicians. As a youth, he first studied violin and harpsichord and later became the pupil of French organist André Raison (d. 1719). He also studied voice and composition with Jean-Baptiste Moreau (1656-1733), court composer to Louis XIV. Clérambault was first organist of the Grands-Augustins and later succeeded Guillame-Gabriel Nivers (1632-1714) as the organist of the prestigious church of Saint-Sulpice. He was employed at the same time by the royal house of Saint-Cyr, an institution for young girls of impoverished nobility. He later succeeded his teacher, André Raison as organist of Saint-Jacques after Raison’s death in 1719. In addition to his work with the organ, Clérambault was a prolific composer of vocal music and wrote widely, both religiously and secularly, in the increasingly-popular, 18th century genre of the cantata, of which he is acknowledged the master of the French form. He also wrote many motets and other choral works for church use.
His surviving organ work is known in his Premier Livre D’Orgue, “First (and unfortunately only) Organ Book,” published in 1710. This work consists of two “suites” based on the first and second Gregorian church “modes” or tones, the foundation of religious chant. He had originally intended to complete a suite on each of the 8 church modes, but only created works on the first and second. Both the opening and closing voluntaries are from the Suite du Premier Ton (Suite on the First Tone) in the Dorian mode. This “mode” corresponds to the scale on the piano on the white notes beginning with D, sometimes with a flatted ‘b’ (an “option exercised by Clérambault in this suite) and thus, most similar to our modern key of “D-minor.” These pieces, along with the rest of the collection are typical of French organ composition of the 17th and 18th centuries. The “Duo” is a fugue-style composition in two voices in which the supporting line frequently echoes and varies the themes introduced in the upper voice. The “Grand plein jeu” is a piece for full organ and, in the Livre D’Orgue, serves as the introduction for the suite and collection as a whole. It is in a grand, richly-ornamented style.