In 1698 the Amsterdam music publisher Estienne Roger brought out an edition of 10 suites by Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-67). Nothing extraordinary about that, one might think...but it was unusual at the time to print anything by a composer who had died in obscurity 30 years previous, and extremely strange in a case where the style of music in question was outmoded. A few years before Roger’s print, Bourgeat in Mainz had brought out two volumes of pieces by the former imperial organist. Froberger had spent some time there not long before his death. Former friends, probably including the violinist J. J. Walther, must have thought his music worth preserving – a commendable measure, if contrary to the composer’s wishes. Froberger was highly reluctant to allow his pieces to be copied. According to his patroness, Duchess Sibylla of Württemberg-Mömpelgard, he feared they would be “massacred”; a prophesy being richly fulfilled at present.
But it had been a long time indeed since Froberger passed through the Netherlands in 1650. The statesman/composer/polymath Constantijn Huyghens (1596-1687) had been a great fan and collector of the German’s music; his son Christiaan, the famous scientist, had died in 1695. Perhaps survivors of that remarkable family, knowing how highly their relatives had esteemed them, saw to it that works in the family archive were brought to press?* Only two copies of the original edition survive. That there were two later ones is further testimony to an enduring interest in Froberger at a time when compositions of such quality were already becoming scarce.
One copy of the 1698 print is held at the British Library. At some point not long after publication it made its way to the south of France, where it was decorated with two charmingly naive drawings of harpsichords by its then owners. I came across them in a re-Tweet on Naoko’s Twitter account. The images had originated with a friend of an outstanding young Japanese recorder player and musicologist, Mr. Rei Inoue. Inoue-sensei, who performed with Naoko in Tokyo earlier this year and who possesses remarkable abilities as a researcher, was able to trace them to the copy cited above, which is online at IMSLP.org
This first drawing is inscribed, “Ce livre apartient a Madame de monfaut De castetnau”. The name is best known from the Recherche de Monfaut, a 15th-century list of noble properties in Normandy to be restituted after the departure of the English occupiers. Castetnau is a town in Béarn, the southwestern-most of the old provinces of France.
A presumed later owner has written, “Mademoiselle du puy a lectoure” over the next drawing. She goes on with what looks like “ce 24me”, possibly an attempt at a date which Mademoiselle gave up on. She has added what looks like a bass viol with six strings and nine tuning pegs. Someone has practiced neatly writing the word compagnie, which appears on Roger’s title page, and a more flamboyant (earlier?) hand has signed the rare name “Flerie”, now known mostly in Italy as “Fleri”. A protestant diplomat from Normandy named Flerie appeared at the court of Elizabeth I of England. Could there have been a connection between two Normand Protestant families, Flerie and Monfaut, who fled the persecutions of Louis XIII and Richelieu for a refuge in the South? Or was Flerie the maiden name of Mme. de Monfaut? Du Puy, on the other hand, is an old name from the Aquitaine, and Lectoure is a substantial commune of that region in the Département Gers, just west of Toulouse.
The harpsichords depicted, about 20cm long in the quarto format book, are of a late-17th-century type known mostly from southern France: two manuals, decorated lid, with a trestle stand and torqued legs (indicated by circles in the drawings). Although they are two different instruments – assuming that one or both are not products of fantasy – I think it is safe to say they are from the hand of the same person. The draftsmanship may not be first class, but whoever it was went to considerable trouble to get in as many strings, keys and wrest pins as they could. Perhaps Mme. de Castetnau visiting her friend Mlle. du Puy in Lectoure, and offered to add her harpsichord to the book.
One of the finest of the few survivors of this type is in Stuttgart’s moribund museum of musical instruments. It is attributed, on the basis of a different signed and dated instrument, to Claude Labrèche of Carpentras, ca. 1700. Carpentras is not far from Avignon, in southeast France. Here is a photo Naoko took the last time we visited Stuttgart.
Closer to Castetnau and Lectoure is Toulouse, headquarters of the South’s finest builder, Vincent Tibaut. Here is his marquetry masterpiece of 1679 in the Brussels museum.
The closest resemblance to the Du Puy harpsichord, with the decorated upper rim of its stand, is found in an instrument which only survives in a photo in Raymond Russell’s “The Harpsichord and Clavichord”. It was lost in the German terror bombing of Rotterdam in 1940. The only known inscription is by the lid painter: Le Roy pingebat, 1685.
Mr. Inoue also tracked down information about a Mlle. Dupuy who assisted her father, Bernard Aymable Dupuy, master of the music at St. Sernin in Toulouse. He had three daughters born between 1746 and 1756. One or more of them took care of the choir boys, helped with singing lessons, and also advertised as harpsichord teacher. But the period involved, with documents regarding “Mademoiselle Dupuy” dating from 1780 to 1791, seems too late for our type of harpsichord, or for any interest in Froberger whatsoever. The father was from a Toulousaine family, but there may have been some connection with Lectoure, which was not distant.
Just as a sidelight in parting: when looking for information about the Monfaut family, I came across this picture, ca. 1870, of one Marc de Monifaud, a typical variant spelling.
I was puzzled by the name Marc, since the person shown looked distinctly feminine. It turns out that she was a kind of higher-minded, reverse parallel to the Abbé de Choisy (see article 98). Marie-Amélie Chartroule de Montifaud was born in Paris in 1845. Her home life was conflicted: she had a strict Catholic mother and a free-thinking philosophe of a father. At the age of 20 she took the name Marc in order to work as an art and music critic. She would appear dressed and coiffed as a male at the annual art Salons and at the Opéra in order to be taken seriously. She did the same while researching at the Bibliothèque nationale, in order to gain admittance at all. Such was the sad state of things at the time. Marie/Marc, whose family and acquaintances used the pronouns “he” and “she” interchangeably when referring to this person, later wrote novels so licentious and sacrilegious that they got her thrown in jail more than once on charges of indecency. During her trials she argued that she was being treated more harshly than contemporaries like Baudelaire and Flaubert who were facing similar charges.
July 31, 2023
* In episode 6 of the original “Cosmos” TV series (1980) created by Carl Sagan, I played the harpsichord during a fictitious meeting between father and son Huyghens during a musical soirée. The scene was filmed at Hofwijck, the country house outside The Hague inaugurated by Constantijn in 1642. The design was his own, in cooperation with Jacob van Campen, architect of the new City Hall of Amsterdam, now known as the Koninklijk Paleis.