Etienne Moulinié: Three Fantasias for Four-part consort. ...

As maistre de la musique to Gaston d'Orléans, younger brother of Louis XIII, between 1628 and 1660, Moulinié spent most of his career working near the hub of Parisian musical and cultural life. The relaxed atmosphere at the court of the Duc d'Orléans allowed Moulinié to concentrate on the production of airs and dances for ballets and other entertainments, but he also composed a Requiem Mass and other more serious material. Far from being entirely French in outlook, he also set texts in Italian and Spanish, and his inclusion of figured basses in many of his pieces shows him looking towards Italy for the latest musical trends. Besides Moulinié's numerous sacred and secular works, he seems to have published just these three instrumental fantasies, which appeared in his Cinquiesme Livre d'Airs de Cour in Paris in 1639.

The first two fantasies (both in g minor) are multi-sectional pieces, alternating between 'serious' (and sometimes chromatic) polyphonic passages and lighter dance-like sections that tend to be more homophonic in texture. Some of these are triplas, providing a lilting contrast to the more weighty duple-time sections. A curious feature is the inclusion of a few passages just for treble and bass, omitting the middle two parts. These passages, together with a few cadential chords that lack a third, beg the question of whether or not Moulinié might have conceived these pieces with a lute or other chordal instrument supplying additional harmonies. They would certainly be effective with that addition. The third fantasie (in C major) is a more thoroughly contrapuntal piece, lacking the dance elements, and developing most of its material from a triadic theme stated first as a countersubject and then becoming more insistent, appearing in inversion and augmentation. This leads to a less colourful harmonic palette than the earlier pieces had explored, but does mean that all four parts get an equal share of the limelight.

The parts were originally designated Dessus (G2 clef), Taille (C1), Haute-Contre (C1) and Basse-Contre (F3). This edition puts both the top parts in treble clef, but the second part never goes above e'' and could be played high on a tenor viol (or fit perfectly on the so-called alto viol), while the treble player will need to be unafraid of a top a'' or b''. The third part (provided here with alternative C and G clefs) is a true tenor, and occasionally drops below the generally high-lying bass part. The edition is beautifully clear and accurate, though I migh have been more generous in the supplying of editiorial accidentals. Those who have explored the slightly earlier fantasies of Du Caurroy and Le Jeune will enjoy these well-crafted pieces. Players who have not ventured beyond the English consort repertory might well like to start here: there are touches of both Jenkins' airs and the occasional foretaste of Purcell's fatazias in Moulinié's music.

John Bryan,
The Viol No 6: May 2007