Jean-Marc Aymes

Johann Jacob Froberger (1616 – 1667)

Libro secondo di toccate, Fantasie, Canzone, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue et altre Partite (1649)

Tombeau fait à Paris sur la mort de Monsieur de Blancheroche et Méditation faite sur ma mort future


Jean-Marc Aymes, Organist & harpsichordist

A talented instrumentalist, teacher, musical and multidisciplinary artistic director, Jean-Marc Aymes has been a major force in the French music world for 30 years.

Jean-Marc Aymes is a harpsichordist and artistic director of the Concerto Soave ensemble and the Mars en Baroque Festival (Marseille). He has been the harpsichord professor at the Lyon National Superior Conservatory of Music and Dance since 2009.

He studied at the conservatories of Toulouse, The Hague and Brussels, where he graduated with a harpsichord diploma, before winning the Bruges and Malmö Early Music music chamber competitions.

In 1989, he made the acquaintance of the soprano María Cristina Kiehr, with whom he founded Concerto Soave in 1992, a musical ensemble with a varying number of members of which Jean-Marc Aymes is currently artistic director. The ensemble adapts to the demands of different programs with great flexibility, from a simple duo to a baroque ensemble of approximately thirty musicians. Specialising in 17th century Italian repertoire, the ensemble has earned international acclaim.

Based in the heart of Marseilles, Concerto Soave performs around the world, invited by the largest halls and the most prestigious festivals.

Aymes has directed several productions of operas and oratorios (Monteverdi, Handel, Purcell…), some of them first performances (Cavalli, Perti, Colonna…). He also pursues a career as a solo harpsichordist. He was the first to have recorded Girolamo Frescobaldi’s complete keyboard works.

He has cultivated his interest in contemporary music via a collaboration with Roland Hayrabedian’s Musicatreize Ensemble and through works which several composers have dedicated to him.

He has a rich discography of more than sixty recordings.

Since 2007, he has served as artistic director of the Mars en Baroque Festival in Marseilles, a series of Early music concerts and conferences that are also open to cinema, visual arts and… cuisine!

Jean-Marc Aymes and Concerto Soave are planning several major projects in Marseilles in the coming years.

Jean-Marc Aymes in 6 Key Dates:
1992: founds Concerto Soave
1994: publication of Sances’ Motets and Cantatas, with Concerto Soave
2000: publication of Canta la Maddalena with María Cristina Kiehr and Concerto Soave, on Harmonia Mundi
2007: takes over direction of the Mars en Baroque Festival in Marseilles.
2010: finishes recording the entire works of Frescobaldi for keyboard
2016: world premiere of Cavalli’s Oristeo

The Robert Dallam Organ

The organ of the Saint-Brandan parish church
of Lanvellec is the work of Robert Dallam,
an organ builder and heir to a long tradition
linked to the royal court of England. In 1642,
when the civil war disrupted the kingdom
and the puritans prohibited music in the
churches, Robert Dallam crossed the English
Channel to take refuge in Brittany and settled
in Morlaix. He built numerous organs,
including that of the Saint-Efflam church
in Plestin-les-Grèves in 1653.
In 1857, the church was damaged, and
the organ, the victim of a faulty roof, was
sold to the Lanvellec parish. It was declared
a Historical Monument on 25 March 1971
(part) and 18 July 1977 (sideboard).
It was restored between April 1985 and
September 1986. The restoration, entrusted
to the Italian organ builder Barthélemy
Formentelli, preserved all of the organ’s true
historical nature, with its original diapason
and the exact colour of the stops in an
appropriate temperament for illustrating
the musical language of the 16th and 17th
centuries. Master organist Gustav Leonhardt
inaugurated it on 16 November 1986.
The instrument, with an exceptional destiny
and sound, is returning to its original use:
being played by the best musicians in
the world. While the organ is a beautiful
showcase for the Lanvellec commune,
the Rencontres Internationales de Musique
Ancienne en Trégor offer organists
the privilege of making it sing.

Johann Jacob Froberger, by Denis Morrier

Long before François Couperin, JS Bach or Handel, Johann Jakob Froberger was “the man of composite tastes”. A tireless traveller and veritable smuggler of styles and ideas between the musical nations of a divided Europe, he appropriated the diverse compositional forms and traditions of his time, whether Germanic, Italian or French. In combining these influences, he gave rise to a new art of the keyboard.

From Stuttgart to Vienna, then Rome

Baptised in Stuttgart on 19 May 1616, Froberger received his first musical education alongside a cantor father then Kapellmeister of the ducal chapel of Württemberg. Starting in 1618, the Thirty Years’ War spread its ravages throughout the Germanic provinces. In 1634, protestant Württemberg was invaded and devastated by imperial Catholic troops. Paradoxically, while his homeland was falling prey to the armies of Ferdinand II, Johann Jakob was arriving at the capital of the enemy camp. On 1 January 1637, he obtained the position of organist at the Viennese court. The following 22 June, the Obersthofmeister informed the new Emperor, Ferdinand III, of the musician’s desire to travel to Rome to study alongside Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643), the eminent organist of St. Peter. The intendant specifies that he asked the Emperor’s confessor to encourage the young man to convert to Catholicism.

It was thus rebaptised and endowed with a bursary of 200 guldens that, at the end of 1637, Froberger arrived at the Eternal City. Until his return to Vienna, in April 1641, he studied with the teacher he had chosen for himself. A privileged heir to the contrapuntal traditions of both Germany and Italy, the young organist reinvented, alongside his mentor, the writing of fugues in his own polyphonic compositions: canzon, capricci, fantasie and ricercari. Frescobaldi also revealed to him the new usages of the musica moderna, as well as the stile fantastico of which he was the instigator. In their toccate and dances, teacher and student alike used expressive dissonances and evocative stylistic figures which, until then, had been considered illicit. Similarly, Frescobaldi advocated a novel rhythmic liberty in performance, whether on organ or harpsichord, which Froberger would assimilate and indicate in his manuscripts with the expression, “to be played with discretion”. These new modes of writing and playing were theorised by Froberger’s  Roman friend, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). In his Musurgia Universalis (Rome, 1650), this knowledgeable Jesuit distinguishes eight styli expressi, including the stylus phantasticus. Kircher then convoked, by way of example, the compositions of his compatriot (and in particular his Fantasia sopra “ut ŕe mi fa sol la”) alongside those of his teacher Frescobaldi. According to Kircher, this “extremely free method of composition” is “instrument-specific”. It is characterised by the use of invented musical subjects (that is, not borrowed from a pre-existing repertoire) and “was created to demonstrate his skill, to reveal the secret rules of harmony, the ingenuity of the harmonic cadences and the construction of the fugues”.

The Libro Secondo of 1649

This new “art of the fugue” and this nuova maniera on the keyboard are evident on each page of the sumptuous collection that the Viennese organist presented to his Emperor on 29 September 1649. This original manuscript, decorated by Johann Friedrich Sautter (a friend of the composer from Württemberg) is titled Libro Secondo. Since the Libro primo is lost, it is de facto the oldest known source of Froberger’s works.

It is made up of 24 pieces, ordered according to form, and opens with a group of six toccate: a customary and logical proposition. In fact, these compositions, formally close to preludes, with a free and improvised pace, generally serve as an introduction: to a liturgical episode (such as the two elevation toccatas, which are intended for the organ), or to other musical pieces (fugue, dance…) and hence, a fortiori, the entire collection. The toccate are organised in several highly contrasting sections. They alternate between virtuoso episodes, adorned with brilliant passaggi, with brief passages of imitative counterpoint. Juxtaposing compositional procedures and metrics, multiplying rhetorical and theatrical effects (such as the striking descending chromaticisms of the Toccata II), these formal and expressive microcosms demonstrate the perfect appropriation of Frescobaldi’s stile fantastico by his Viennese disciple.

After the toccate come two groups of six fantasias and six canzoni, which it is possible to interpret indiscriminately on the organ or harpsichord. Contrary to what their name might lead one to think, Froberger’s fantasias are polyphonic contrapuntal pieces in a strict style. Their appellation is justified by the multiplicity of motifs present and the freedom with which they are treated. The Fantasia sopra ut ré mi fa sol la presents a real tour de force, reconciling unity and diversity. Entirely founded on a unique generating theme (the hexachord and its multiple transpositions), it introduces a broad variety of secondary ideas, as well as increasingly brief rhythmic figures and striking metric contrasts. The same speculative taste and taste for solmization are evident in the Fantasia sopra Sol La Ré: flourishing in many places on the score is the witty assertion Lascia fare mi “leave it to me”, and its musical transcription (La sol fa ré mi).

Like the Fantasie, the Canzone exhibit strict polyphonic writing, but they differ from the Fantasies in the use of a theme to a lighter rhythmic pace. The German theoretician Michael Praetorius, in his Syntagma Musicum (1619), reminds us that they must “proceed cheerfully and swiftly, with lots of crotchets”. Initially, their principal theme was characterised by the dactylic metre (long-double breve, often transcribed with crotchet-double quaver). While this motif continues to predominate in the Canzone II and III, Froberger introduces a richer diversity of rhythmic elaboration in his other fugues.

The collection concludes with six suites of dances composed specifically for the harpsichord, the latter titled partita. They are the oldest illustrations of this “classical” form that have reached us, Froberger later being considered “the father of the keyboard suite”. He crystallised its composition around four “grand dances” of French taste believed to date from the 18th century, which he at times names in Italian style: allemand(a) – courant(e) – saraband(a) – gigue. For a long time these suites would serve as a model for later composers, such as Fischer, Pachelbel, Bach and Handel. Thus, 70 years after the composer’s death, in 1737, the catalogue of the Amsterdam editors Roger and Le Cène still presented several of these compositions in its Dix suittes de Clavecin composées par Monsieur Frobergue.

In Paris, with Monsieur de Blancheroche

After having presented his collection to the Emperor, at the end of 1649, the musician undertook an adventurous four-year voyage. He sojourned first in Dresden, where, as Mattheson would recount in the following century, he participated in a musical duel on harpsichord with his organist friend Matthias Weckmann. In 1650, after passing through Cologne, Düsseldorf and Antwerp, he arrived in Brussels. Then, after a stop in Leuven, he went to London, where he resided for a time, before arriving in Paris in around 1650. At the time, Froberger came in close contact with several eminent personalities: the Marquis de Terme, the organists François Roberday, Charles Richard and Pierre de la Barre, as well as his daughter, the singer Anne de Barre. He became well acquainted with the lutenist Charles de Fleury, Sieur de Blancrocher (c. 1605-1652) and presumably made the acquaintance of Louis Couperin. Following Blancrocher’s accidental death, Froberger composed the Tombeau made in Paris upon the death of Monsieur Blancheroche, which is to be played very slowly, with discretion, without observing any measure. The manuscript of the Viennese Minorite Monastery (ms. WMin 743) accompanies this famous piece with an explanatory note in Latin:

Monsieur de Blancheroche, the famous Parisian lutenist, best friend of Mr Froberger, after dining with Mrs de S.Thomas, took a stroll in the royal garden with Mr Froberger, then returned home and went upstairs to do something; he fell down the stairs, so severely that he had to be taken to his bed by his wife, his son and others. Mr Froberger, seeing the danger, ran quickly for a doctor. Surgeons were present who made an incision to release the blood that had gathered in his wounded foot. Also present was the Marquis de Terme, to whom Mr Blancheroche commended his last wishes. And soon after, he breathed his last.

Following the precepts that organise and embellish the rhetorical discourse, this Tombeau adopts, in the manner of Bossuet’s Oraisons, an implacable construction and is adorned with eloquent stylistic figures. Its organisation is tripartite. A striking exord establishes a tragic atmosphere from the outset. It opens with rich ornamented arpeggios, followed by a katabasis: a general downwards movement whose depressive and sorrowful nature is emphasized by dissonances and appoggiature. Then begins the narration, a series of contrasting musical ups and downs, in which everyone will be able to identify the vicissitudes of the lutenist’s life and death. The piece concludes with an impressive peroration, built initially on a long pedal of G, like a funeral bell, which ends suddenly with a vertiginous drop, precipitated in double quavers on the bass in two octaves. This text-painting is twofold. The katabasis traditionally features death and the inevitable descent to the tomb. Here it becomes a hypotyposis: a vivid way of illustrating an idea or image through equivalent music, in this case the lutenist’s fatal hurtling down the stairs.

Haunting Imagery of Death

On 1 April 1653, Froberger returned to the Viennese court. On 9 July 1654, the king of the Romans, the Emperor’s eldest son, died of smallpox. In memory of him, Froberger composed a lamentation for the harpsichord. In 1656, he presented to the Sovereign the manuscript of his Libro Quarto (the Libro terzo remains lost), consisting of a new series of six toccate, ricercarci, capricci and suites. The Emperor passed away on 3 April 1657. Froberger then composed a third “tombeau”: Made upon the very painful death of His Imperial Majesty, Ferdinand III, am Ende: rest in peace, Amen.

The following 30 June, Froberger was informed of his dismissal. In 1658, Froberger returned to Paris and appears to have remained there until 1660, as is attested by the dating (in the Berlin manuscript SA 4450) of one of most famous compositions: the suite which opens with the allemande titled Meditation on my future death, to be played slowly, with discretion, Paris, 1 May 1660. This “vanity” in music, like the paintings of Georges de La Tour, is a meditative composition, in the radiant key of D major, dotted with fleeting dissonances, but nevertheless serene and confident. The Berlin copy concludes with this striking formula: Memento mori Froberger (“Remember that you are going to die, Froberger”). After this terrible warning, the suite introduces three dances (Gigue, Courante and Sarabande) that are lighter in nature, even playful, like a happy (and perhaps futile) return to the pleasures of existence.

This indefatigable traveller’s journey comes to an end in a world made in his image, on the borders of the Latin and Germanic cultures, Catholic and Protestant. At the time, the Principality of Montbéliard was a prosperous Lutheran country attached to the House of Württemberg. From 1663 until his death, Froberger was hosted and protected by the duchess dowager Sybille (1620-1707), widow of Leopold Frederick of Württemberg, Count of Montbéliard. It was there that Froberger found his final residence, with a musical and cultivated protrectress, who treated him like a teacher and friend. Sybille’s correspondence describes Froberger as a man of Christian morals and measured character, kind and able to enjoy the good things of life, capable of conversing learnedly with the high society and also of playing cards with the servants. He died of a heart attack or stroke on 6 May 1667 (or 16 May, according to the Gregorian calendar). His benefactress held an “honourable and solemn” funeral, and had him buried in Catholic land, outside of her principality, in the nearby village of Bavilliers, not far from Belfort.

Denis Morrier, Montbéliard, March 2020.


Performing Froberger – Jean-Marc Aymes

Recording the first manuscript by Froberger that reached me seemed quite natural after having recorded the entirety of Frescobaldi’s published music, as well as some of what remains in manuscript. By its own decree, the Libro secondo of 1649 is a clear tribute from the young German to his Roman teacher. This book opens with a series of toccate, showcasing this relatively new genre, just as Frescobaldi did with his two books in 1615 and 1627. These pieces, apart from the two toccate da sonarsi alla Levatione, a kind of copy/paste of the Roman model, nevertheless adopt a systematic approach to their construction (a prelude of an improvised nature, followed by two or three passages in imitation, sometimes utilising a unique theme, interspersed with free passages) that is far from the capricious Frescobaldian architectures. As for the fantasie which follow, they are a mixture of the variety of the capriccio (incidentally, the first fantasia is based on the hexachord C, D, E, F, G, A, just like the first of Frescobaldi’s Capricci from 1624), and of the severity of the ricercar. They are substantially different to the very intellectual fantasias of 1608, Frescobaldi’s “first works” (“mie prime fatiche”). Then come the canzoni which reveal the importance of a far too neglected genre. The canzoni experienced its apex with the Neapolitan school founded by Giovanni de Macque, and it was to him that Frescobaldi would dedicate his last work, if we accept that the Canzoni published in Venice in 1645 are indeed by the Roman composer, who died in 1643. The Canzoni from Froberger’s book are in any case written extremely carefully and have an elaborate structure. While these pieces are a kind of “swan song” of the genre, it is different to the six partite that conclude the book. Froberger offers us the first examples of a genre which he played a large part in establishing: the suite of dances. Whether for the toccata or for these suites “à la française”, we have here the models which would be adopted by virtually all composers, starting with Johann Sebastian Bach.

When one familiarises oneself with the music of Froberger, a great virtuoso and great traveller, one finds this desire to mix styles and “blur” the edges of a given form. The question also arises of the choice of instrument or instruments on which to perform his music. Owing to their very “Italian” character, one might think that the toccata – once again apart from those for the Levatione, specifically intended for the organ – are more evidently for an instrument of Italian construction. The first three are, however, in the famous Bauyn manuscript, the principal source of French music for keyboard from the 17th century. The toccata in D, the second in the book from 1649, is in fact marked in Bauyn: “fatto a Bruxellis anno 1650”, with “fatto” here meaning “played”, since the piece had already been copied at least a year earlier. Froberger certainly played these three toccate during his transition to Paris at the end of 1652. He thus played on instruments of French or Flemish construction. As for the two toccate per la Levatione, although their style is profoundly Italian, in line with the Neapolitan stavaganze and durezze and similar Roman pieces, Froberger, during his brief sojourn in London, may have played them on instruments close to that of Dallam (built in 1653) which is now in the Church of Lanvellec, if not on organs which Robert Dallam himself built during his flight to Brittany. One must admit that the magnificent flutes of Lanvellec give Johann Jakob’s Canzoni a particular colour, more cheerful than the sorrowful and oppressive atmosphere of the puritan England of the 1650s…

With regard to the choice of harpsichords, except for the partite, which have a decidedly French aesthetic, and are thus better suited to playing on a harpsichord of the same aesthetic, Froberger was simply guided by personal taste. And also by a search for a diversity of colour, necessary in this genre of the “whole”. We trust that this will convince the listener. Even if Froberger could not have known, at the end of his life, the instruments of the ingenious Vincent Tibaut (1647-1691) “of Tolose”, the richness of the timbres offered by the splendid copy produced by Emile Jobin seemed to me perfectly adequate for the composer’s refined style.

A few more words to explain several interpretive choices. Concerning the ornamentation, even though that of the toccate is extremely precisely notated in the manuscript, at least in the affetti (“free”) passages, certain later manuscripts, not necessarily of works from the 1649 manuscript, are notated with many additional ornaments, and sometimes excessively so. It therefore seems quite obvious to ornament the pieces notated here in a rather restrained manner. Regarding the toccate, canzoni and fantasie, I have instead come closer to an Italian ornamentation (trilli, diminutions, “Lombard” rhythms, etc.), while the repertoire of the French harpsichordists (Chambonnières, Louis Couperin, d’Anglebert…) was a source of inspiration for the partite (tremolo, acciaccatura, and appoggiatura). This desire to synthesise styles has been, starting with 1649, one of the greatest fascinations held by Froberger’s music. Concerning the performance in ternary mode of certain passages notated in binary (the end of toccata III for example), I refer to the fascinating article by Lucy Hallman Russell, “Two-for-three Notation in Froberger” (Froberger, musicien européen – Klincksieck, 1998).

To complete this recording’s program, the choice of Tombeau sur la mort de Monsieur de Blancheroche (1652) was dictated by its chronological proximity to the Libro Secondo, whereas that of the partita which opens with the famous Méditation faite sur ma mort future imposed itself: this suite is quite simply one of the ingenious harpsichordist’s great masterpieces.