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Daquin – Les Douze Noels


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Louis-Claude Daquin’s “Les Douze Noëls” are recorded on this CD in a new format which was first performed by Academy forces in St Aloysius in 2002. It has been my wish for some years to marry Daquin’s Twelve Noëls to the original late mediæval verses from which they derived.

Simon Wright, the organist at Ampleforth College, North Yorkshire, and conductor of the Leeds Festival Chorus, is a long-term collaborator of mine. He 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 put together the text during a period of study leave in Paris.

Through a process of consultation the verses were sifted, and a pastoral progression of solos and choruses has emerged, 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, according to his biography, was pious, independent, simple and unworldly. In addition, he was a prodigy. He played for Louis XIV when he was six and gained the assistant organist job 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 very little of his music survives: only two works – 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 with open arms. 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. The ‘tierce’ Daquin asks for leads to all sorts of weaving ‘loony tunes’ dissonance which the organ anoraks in the audience will particularly enjoy. Daquin could have written this particular piece yesterday – so postmodern does it sound. By the time you hear the massive pedale de trompettes on two bass trombones and tuba in NoXII Noël Suisse we will be home and dry.

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

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Weight 300 g

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