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Louis Marchand

Louis Marchand

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Louis Marchand was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists...

, harpsichordist
A harpsichordist is a person who plays the harpsichord.Many baroque composers played the harpsichord, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti, George Frideric Handel, François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau...

, and composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

. Born into an organist's family, Marchand was a child prodigy and quickly established himself as one of the best known French virtuosi
A virtuoso is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in the fine arts, at singing or playing a musical instrument. The plural form is either virtuosi or the Anglicisation, virtuosos, and the feminine form sometimes used is virtuosa...

 of his time. He worked as organist of numerous churches and, for a few years, at the French court. Marchand had a violent temperament and an arrogant personality, and his life was filled with scandals, publicized and widely discussed both during his lifetime and after his death. Despite his fame, few of his works survive to this day, and those that do almost all date from his early years. Nevertheless, a few pieces of his, such as the organ Grand dialogue in C and Fond d'orgue in E minor, have been lauded as classic works of the French organ school.


The composer was born in Lyon
Lyon , is a city in east-central France in the Rhône-Alpes region, situated between Paris and Marseille. Lyon is located at from Paris, from Marseille, from Geneva, from Turin, and from Barcelona. The residents of the city are called Lyonnais....

. Évrard Titon du Tillet
Évrard Titon du Tillet
Évrard Titon du Tillet is best known for his important biographical chronicle, Le Parnasse françois, composed of brief anecdotal vite of famous French poets and musicians of his time, under the reign of Louis XIV and the Régence.- Biography :Of Scottish origin, Évrard Titon du Tillet was the son...

, writing in 1732, described Marchand's father as a "mediocre organist". The son, however, was a child prodigy. According to the same source, Louis became organist of the Nevers Cathedral when he was just 14 years old; Titon du Tillet also states that ten years later, at the age of 24, Marchand obtained a similar position at the Auxerre Cathedral, but contemporary sources seem to indicate that the biographer was wrong, and Marchand settled in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 before he turned 20. He married a Parisian, Marie Angélique Denis, in 1689, and worked as organist in numerous churches until 1707–8, when he became one of the King's organists at the court. Between 1713 and 1717 Marchand went on a long concert tour of Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

; after he returned, he settled in Paris once again and worked as organist at Église des Cordeliers until his death, augmenting his income with teaching.

Marchand was one of the most famous French virtuosi of his day. Virtually all contemporary sources speak very highly of his organ and harpsichord skills, and some may exaggerate, consciously or not, the way Titon du Tillet did when he spoke of the Auxerre Cathedral appointment. For instance, one account mentions that Marchand was not required to compete for the position of the organist to the King (as was customary). Another claims that, when Marchand first arrived to Paris, he was offered literally all posts that were vacant at the time. Marchand's skills as a performer were enough to fuel speculations in the press, but apparently he also possessed a volatile, flamboyant personality, and was a very difficult person to work with. For example, in 1691 Marchand attempted to displace Jean-François Dandrieu
Jean-François Dandrieu
Jean-François Dandrieu was a French Baroque composer, harpsichordist and organist.He was born in Paris into a family of artists and musicians. A gifted and precocious child, he gave his first public performances when he was 5 years old, playing the harpsichord for Louis XIV, King of France, and...

's uncle, Pierre Dandrieu, from the latter's position at St Barthélemy, by implying Dandrieu left a prostitute pregnant. Around 1717 he contested with François Couperin
François Couperin
François Couperin was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.-Life:Couperin was born in Paris...

 for the authorship of Les bergeries, a very popular piece from Couperin's Second livre de clavecin, published that year. Marchand was also rumored to be unfaithful to his wife and beat her. The couple separated in 1701, but for many years after this, Marie Angélique kept suing the composer for financial settlement. When Marchand left for Germany in 1713, it may have been to escape from his wife's legal threats—however, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg
Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg
Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg was a German music critic, music-theorist and composer. He was friendly and active with many figures of the Enlightenment of the 18th century.-Life:...

 reported that Marchand left because Louis XIV exiled the composer for "impertinence." Still another account claims that after Marchand's wife had left him, Louis XIV ordered half the composer's salary to be withheld and paid to her. Marchand, in response, broke off in the middle of a mass where he was playing and, when the king questioned him, responded, "Sire, if my wife gets half my salary, she may play half the service."

Perhaps the most famous anecdote about Marchand is the account of the competition he was supposed to have with Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

 in Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

 in September 1717. According to Marpurg, Jakob Adlung
Jakob Adlung
Jakob Adlung, or Adelung, was a German organist, teacher, instrument maker, music historian, and music theorist.-Biography:...

, and other German sources (the story is not found in any French documents), the two composers were to have a contest in harpsichord performance, and Marchand fled before Bach's arrival, apparently out of fear of being defeated. This story, retold with various embellishments by Bach's later biographers such as Johann Nikolaus Forkel
Johann Nikolaus Forkel
Johann Nikolaus Forkel , was a German musician, musicologist and music theorist.-Biography:...

, was only subjected to close scrutiny by late 20th century scholars; no conclusive proof exists that Marchand ran away, or even that he knew the competition was to take place.


Marchand was evidently not interested in publishing his music, and so, despite his popularity, comparatively few of his compositions survive. The losses are particularly substantial in his vocal music: only one cantata
A cantata is a vocal composition with an instrumental accompaniment, typically in several movements, often involving a choir....

 survives, Alcione, three Cantiques spirituelles, and a few airs, which were published in various French anthologies of the first half of the 18th century. The opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 Pyrame et Thisbé, mentioned by Titon du Tillet, is lost. Marchand's harpsichord music was previously known only by two early suite
In music, a suite is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral pieces normally performed in a concert setting rather than as accompaniment; they may be extracts from an opera, ballet , or incidental music to a play or film , or they may be entirely original movements .In the...

s, published in 1702, and La vénitienne, a short work published in a 1707 anthology. These compositions are generally considered worthy examples of the French harpsichord style, but, as early works, lacking depth. A third book of harpsichord pieces, comprising 14 suites (12 in C minor, 2 in C major), most attributed to Marchand, was discovered in France in 2003.

Twelve of Marchand's organ works were published posthumously, but some 40 more survive in manuscript copies. Yet again most of these works seem to date from Marchand's early years (and stylistically look back to the 17th century, rather than the new galante style
Galante music
A new style of classical music, fashionable from the 1720s to the 1770s, was called Galante music. It consciously simplified contrapuntal texture and intense composing techniques that realized a pattern on the page and substituted a clear leading voice with a transparent accompaniment....

), but they include some of his most important music: the massive Grand dialogue in C (1696), which is usually placed as highly as offertories
The Offertory is the portion of a Eucharistic service when bread and wine are brought to the altar. The offertory exists in many liturgical Christian denominations, though the Eucharistic theology varies among celebrations conducted by these denominations....

 by François Couperin
François Couperin
François Couperin was a French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically talented Couperin family.-Life:Couperin was born in Paris...

's and Nicolas de Grigny
Nicolas de Grigny
Nicolas de Grigny was a French organist and composer. He died young and left behind a single collection of organ music, which together with the work of François Couperin, represents the pinnacle of French Baroque organ tradition.-Life:Nicolas de Grigny was born in 1672 in Reims in the parish of...

; the harmonically
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

 sophisticated Fond d'orgue in E minor, and the Quatuor—a rarely seen four-part contrapuntal
In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour and rhythm and are harmonically interdependent . It has been most commonly identified in classical music, developing strongly during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period,...

 French form. Modern scholar Geoffrey Sharp divided Marchand's organ output into three distinct groups: pieces influenced by vocal genres, pieces influenced by instrumental genres, and vocal-instrumental hybrid works. He singles out Marchand's manualiter trios and non-contrapuntal works as the composer's most successful pieces. A six-voice Plein jeu from the pieces published posthumously is important historically as the first instance of double pedals
A pedalboard is a keyboard played with the feet that is usually used to produce the low-pitched bass line of a piece of music...

 in French organ literature.


Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau
Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François...

 was among Marchand's admirers, and his pupils included Pierre Dumage
Pierre Dumage
Pierre Dumage was a French Baroque organist and composer. His first music teacher was most likely his father, organist of the Beauvais Cathedral. At some point during his youth Dumage moved to Paris and studied under Louis Marchand...

 and Louis-Claude Daquin
Louis-Claude Daquin
Louis-Claude Daquin , was a French composer of Jewish birth writing in the Baroque and Galant styles. He was a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist.-Life:...

. Dumage praised his teacher in the preface to his Premier livre d'orgue (1708), one of the most important works from the late years of the French organ school. Marchand's contemporary Pierre-Louis D'Aquin De Château-Lyon even compared the composer to François Couperin, claiming that, while Couperin had more art and application, Marchand had a more natural, spontaneous musicianship. In addition to his music, Marchand also wrote a treatise on composition, Règles de la composition, which theorist Sébastien de Brossard
Sébastien de Brossard
Sébastien de Brossard was a French music theorist.Brossard was born in Dompierre, Orne. After studying philosophy and theology at Caen, he studied music and established himself in Paris in 1678 and remained there until 1687. He briefly was the private tutor of the young son of Nicolas-Joseph...

 considered an excellent, albeit short, work.

Although today most of Marchand's extant pieces are regarded as unimportant by most scholars, a few have expressed the opposite view. French musicologist and writer
A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 Philippe Beaussant
Philippe Beaussant
Philippe Beaussant is a French musicologist and novelist, an expert on French baroque music, on which he has published widely. He is the founder of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, of which he was the artistic adviser of 1987 to 1996. He has also been a producer of musical programs for...

 described the composer's work thus: "Though his compositions are skilfully written, their mastery is not obviously admirable as such. They need to be studied closely before they are found to be very great music."


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