Arts-Scène Diffusion

Jean-Luc Ho


Franco-German exchange

Harpsichord - works of Bach & Marchand


Louis Marchand’s Suite in D is the work of a “Proud and Imposing Musician”, remembered by everyone who met him, right down to his “very large and beautiful hands”.

Born in Lyon, he became organist of Nevers Cathedral at the age of 14, and in 1708 succeeded Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers at the Chapelle Royale. Up until then, French harpsichord music excelled in imitating the lute and the Lullian orchestra. With Marchand it acquired a new face – that of an organ like any other, whose aristocratically dignified language dazzled the listener with its magnificence and seriousness.

Marchand was a visionary, ahead of his time for better and for worse. He was in Germany around 1717, possibly as a result of speaking impertinently to Louis XIV. In 1713 he had been sued by his wife, 12 years after their separation. He may have been obliged to go into exile or perhaps merely attracted by a position, worth 1,000 thalers a year, at the court of the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

In Dresden, a musical duel was quickly arranged between Marchand and Bach. The latter admired Marchand’s compositions and later described him as having “the glory of a very beautiful and very correct style of playing”. However, the outcome of the encounter is unclear, since the accounts of it (all from the German side) are later, dating from 1739 to 1788, and contradictory.

Bach’s Fourth Partita BWV 828 struck me as a suitable rejoinder to Marchand as I recalled Martin Gester’s description: “Partita IV (D major): The Sun, The King, The Court, the French overture and the splendid and magnificent royal style of which the French style in general and the model represented by Versailles are the symbol.”

A suitable pretext for us to enjoy the music of two composers who reinvented the harpsichord.


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