François Campion: Music for Baroque Guitar

Bernhard Hofstetter 17th-century guitar
Brilliant Classics 95276

The guitar music of François Campion (c. 1685-1747) represented here, comes from the copy of his Nouvelles découvertes sur la Guitarre (Paris, 1705), which contains extra pieces copied by hand. In 1748 the book was donated by Campion’s nephew to the Bibliothèque Royale, now the Bibliothèque Nationale, with the shelfmark Vm7 6221. A facsimile was published by Minkoff in 1977. The stringing is typical for French guitar music in the latter part of the 17th century, with a bourdon (low octave string) on the 4th course, but no bourdon on the 5th. This means that both strings of the 5th course are tuned at the higher octave, which is useful for campanellas, but it reduces the overall range of the instrument by a fourth. Campion’s collection is unusual, because there are eight different tunings, including l’accord ordinaire, or standard tuning (a a, d’ d, g g, b b, e’). Hofstötter uses l’accord ordinaire  for tracks 10-12 and 15-20, and one other tuning (a a, c’# c#, f# f#, b b, e’) for tracks 1-9 and 13-14.

The first track, Gavotte en Rondeau, is typical of Campion’s polyphonic style: a clear two-part texture, with strummed chords used sparingly – just three in this piece. The first section is characterised by a descending chromatic scale in the bass, which is very much in evidence in bars 3-5, since the two strings of the fourth course (tuned an octave apart) cause that bass line to sound above and below the other melodic line. Hofstötter plays the notes cleanly, and brings out the interplay between the two voices. In contrast is the Prelude (track 2), which consists of nice arpeggiated chord progressions and a few strummed chords. Campion is careful not to lose sight of his melodic lines, so some chords are marked with dots to show which strings should not be struck. Hofstötter’s interpretation involves a certain amount of rhythmic freedom. Where chords are arpeggiated as four quavers, he often clips the fourth quaver, jerking prematurely into the next chord. The intention may be to create a feeling of intensity and forward movement, but for me it creates a feeling of unease and undue haste. La Montléon is in the style of a gavotte, and has an extraordinary augmented sixth in bar 4. Hofstötter plays the quavers inégales, but often reverts to égales for isolated pairs.

The pieces in accord ordinaire  include three fugues. The first one (track 10) is unusually long, covering five and a half pages of the manuscript, and lasting close on six minutes. Campion develops the opening theme in a variety of ways, adding interest to the harmony with little chromatic inflections. Hofstötter sustains it well, adding excitement when the music soars up to the 12th fret.

Les Ramages is puzzling. In the first bar, after a strummed chord, the rhythm is shown as crotchet + quaver three times. From bar 3 the rhythm is notated as continual quavers. At the end of the piece, apparently as an afterthought, is written “Cette piéce doit être harpégée continuellement”, followed by the first bar re-written to show how chords should be arpeggiated into semiquavers. Hofstötter plays the whole of the first section the first time through with the crotchet + quaver rhythm, and plays arpeggiated semiquavers for the repeat. This seems odd, if only because he plays semiquavers both times through the second section. I think the instruction about arpeggiation is the composer changing his mind, and that one should ignore the crotchet + quaver rhythm signs in the first bar, and play semiquavers “continuellement” for the whole piece.

The CD ends with an extraordinary and very beautiful Passacaille lasting nearly ten minutes. The 4-bar phrases are numbered in a haphazard order in the manuscript, as if the composer keeps changing his mind over which phrase should come next. Hofstötter varies his interpretation of the rhythm – neat semiquavers played in time, some inégales  quavers, and quavers accelerating in an arrhythmic way. Phrase 17 is crossed out in the manuscript, but Hofstötter plays it anyway. The neatly played hemidemisemiquavers in phrase 19 are a spectacular show of Hofstötter’s virtuosity.

Stewart McCoy

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