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Les Douze Noëls is an album of Christmas music by 'pious, independent, simple and unworldly' French Baroque composer Louis-Claude Daquin. His Noëls have, on their title page, an open invitation from Daquin to perform them on 'violins, flutes, oboes etcetera' and the players have accepted that invitation with open arms.
Simon Wright realised the score from the keyboard original and matched it to the original carol melodies before orchestrating it with remarkable imagination. The musical resource of the RSAMD has been fully exploited, though certain players, notably John Langdon on chamber organ, John Butt, Professor of Music at Glasgow University, on harpsichord, Simon McKerrell on Uilleann Pipes and Peter Lissauer, violin, our Head of Strings, are highlighted. String, wind and brass students are treated as chamber soloists throughout. One of the hallmarks of Daquin’s style is virtuosity and our students and staff are truly put on their mettle by the demands of both Daquin the composer and Wright the arranger.
Mark Darlow, who lectures in French at Nottingham University and specialises in this period, researched and assembled the text during a period of study leave in Paris. What has emerged is a pastoral progression of solos and choruses, with the shepherds who ‘tended their flocks by night’ as the main characters.
Noëls should have a rustic and pastoral character matching the simplicity of the words and of the shepherds who were supposed to have sung them while paying homage to Christ in the crib. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, dictionnaire de musique, 1768)
Daquin’s character was pious, independent, simple and unworldly. His keyboard talent was prodigious. He played for Louis XIV when he was six and gained the assistant organist position at Saint-Chapelle by the age of 12. He was recognised as the greatest improviser of his day—surpassing Rameau, according to contemporary evidence; and he ended up, like twentieth-century jazz musicians, writing very little of his music down. However, this was in the days before recording, so only two works have come down to us—these Noëls, and a collection of harpsichord suites. He is purported, however, to have written a variety of works for chorus and orchestra, including a Beatus vir at the age of eight.
The Noëls have, on their title page, an open invitation from Daquin to perform them on ‘violins, flutes, oboes etcetera’. We have accepted this invitation. I hope you particularly enjoy Simon Wright’s realisation of the first Noël—No XI, en Recit en Taille, sur la Tierce du Positif, avec la Pedale de Flûte, et en Duo. Daquin could have written this particular piece yesterday—so postmodern does it sound (in Wright’s version).
By the time you hear the massive pedale de trompettes on two bass trombones and tuba in No XII Noël Suisse these musical excursions will ground back on to terra firma. I hope you enjoy this ‘back to the future’ experiment—and this fusing of an original piece with its inspiration, to create something new. If it provokes thought about the ephemeral nature of musical invention, the concept of originality, and the relationship between composition and improvisation, then it will have been successful.
John Wallace © 2005