After Article 35 (The Murder of Figaro), I am sad to have report another episode in the ongoing suicide of Great Western Music.
Possibly the finest of all French harpsichord suites, that in D minor by Louis Marchand, was mercilessly massacred by Mr. Mahan Esfahani at the Leipzig Bach Festival. The crime was committed at approximately 22:50 on Saturday, June 18, 2022, a very warm summer night. Two other shorter masterpieces had already perished at the desperado's hands at that point, but the Marchand was what caused me to rise up in righteous wrath and leave the magnificent main courtroom in the former Reichsgericht with a big bang on the oak doors. Visiting that edifice had been a kind of insurance against disappointment, but the payout was insufficient.
Vague rumors of the general Esfahani disaster had reached me, but having in any case long since given up on contemporary harpsichord playing, I didn’t pay enough attention. The fellow’s considerable fame made me think: let’s give him a chance. I can go to the instrument museum at the Grassi, have some Thüringer Bratwurst, and visit the Fine Arts Museum (a mixture of exasperation and delight, that). And the venue was attractive, for more than architectural reasons alone. I knew it was where the trial of the suspects of the Reichstag fire of 1933 had taken place, and vibrations immanent after such an event are always edifying.
Why did the Marchand finally make me bolt? It was not only hearing it rendered as the flotsam of a spoiled child’s ego, sloshing around on the waves of tempo-free, Historically Uninformed Performance Practice. I had memories of the work’s beauties from my own performances back in the Lower Devonian, and especially from long nights practicing in a deserted pastorie in the lovely Dutch village of Twisk, when I used the gigue as a trill exercise. I had been allowed to set up my harpsichord there when the last dominee moved out. I sometimes had an audience: the homeless village drunkard, also given space there out of charity, sometimes wandered in and listened silently. Sometimes he fell asleep to Marchand’s dances. We were both turned out when the heating bills mounted. My poor companion later froze to death one bitterly cold night in an abandoned car. A no-nonsense neighbor lady who had worked hard milking Holstein cows all her life remarked, “Opgeruimd staat netjes.”
So nobody gets to mess with Marchand in my presence. Thinking about him recalled to mind a passage in SIECLE LITTERAIRE DE LOUIS XV, OU LETTRES SUR LES HOMMES CELEBRES, by the son of the composer Louis-Claude Daquin. Daquin père had been a student of Marchand’s. As a footnote to Article 54 (Casanova), here it is:
“This famous organist was so odd that he neglected all his students, with the exception of two or three to whom he was attached. He wouldn’t leave the homes which pleased him, but carried on playing the harpsichord as long as one wished, without caring whether he was expected elsewhere. Thus he once passed eight days in pleasant company in Paris, and enchanted all who dropped by, amusing himself at a small cabinet organ. The day he said farewell, only a moment after he had left Couperin [François ii] entered, with whom Marchand was on very bad terms. Love and a pretty woman were the cause. Marchand had found favor with Couperin’s mistress: such things are never pardoned: imagine the scandal if they had found themselves in the same room."
The total victory of barbarism was nicely illustrated by the live rock noise pounding off Leipzig's market square night and day at some 120db – during the Bachfest. Another portent: my facsimile copy of Daquin fils was "de-accessioned” by the University of Michigan Library. I hope to eventually use it to extract all the music, as I did for Titon du Tillet in Article 49. Stay tuned to this channel.
June 22, 2022 (Naoko’s birthday.)