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Guillaume Lasceux and his Compendium "Essay théorique et pratique" by Dr. Wolfram Syré

2020-09-17 - Playing and Pieces

Guillaume Lasceux (1740-1831) was since 1758 organist of the church Saint-Martin-de-Chevreuse at Paris. In 1769 he hold the post as organist of church of the Mathurins, and additionally as organist of the church Saint-Aure. Ten years later he was also employed at the abbey church of Minimes, at the Collège de Navarre and at he Séminaire Saint-Magloire. From 1769 he assisted as organist at the church Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, where he became the post of organist in 1774. During the French revolution he lost the most of his positions, but he stayed on of his post at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. This church was changed to a temple of the Théophilantropes whose services were accompagnied by Lasceux. In 1802-1803 allowed Napoleon I. the roman-catholic Ritus, and Lasceux was now again organist of this church. He retired in 1819 after have being for fifty years a church organist.
I tryed the organ music of Lasceux which he has composed before 1789 - very nice, but not too interesting. But after having a look to his publication "Essai théorique et pratique" (printed in 1809) I was hooked at the moment. It was decided soon: I had to do a recording of the complete book.
The "Essai" is a school of playing the organ, a school of compose for the organ, and a compendium of the organ repertory which was recent in thIs time (1809). I think that Lasceux contributed his book to the reorganisation of the organ playing after the revolution. In the pre-revolution time have especially Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier and Guillaume Lasceux established a determinated canon of organ pieces in the style of the late Baroque and the early Classicism. The "Essai" of Lasceux offers here a kind of prototyp to every form of these compositions in the mature classic style. His style is now simular to the music of the late Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and of Joseph Haydn.
The follow of the pieces in the "Essai" is progressive from very easy to play to vituos and difficult. For us as no French organists of the early 19th century is very interesting that Lasceux gives absolutely exact instructions to every piece how to use the organ stops and the different keyboards. He introduces very carefully and slowly ornaments and difficulties for the fingers and the feets like repetitions of notes, complicated melodic passages, colorated basse-figurations, parallel Tierces and Sextes, obligat pedal use, or double pedal. Lasceux's use of the pedal is especially interesting; it is traditional and innovative. The parts of obligat pedal is a kind of "Pédale en Taille" - it means that the keys of the lowest pedal octav are used very sheldom. The hand plays often lower keys than the pedal. The registration of the pedal is nearly always 16´-based with Flûtes 16´ + 8´ or 16´, 8´ + 4´. So Lasceux gets especially in the symphonic part of his "Essai" very good effects: The pedal registration is convenient both to the Tutti- and the Solo-passages, and the lowest notes of the left hand execute often the part of the orchestra-trumpets.  
Part I (Nr. 1 - 6)
Here we meet the since the Baroque traditional forms Plein Jeu with Plein Chant, Fugue, Duo, and Trio - . The first three pieces are more of pedagogical than of musical interest and they are very simple to play for every beginner of organ practicing. But already the Fugue (Nr. 4) is a serious composition. It is nice to listen to the very large Duo (Nr. 5) which is also a difficult`Étude for the both hands. The Trio de Grosses Tierces (Nr. 6) practices the cantabile-playing.
Part II (Nr. 7 - 15)
Now starts the obligat use of the pedal. The structure of the pieces includes the playing on four keyboards: Pédale, Positif, Grand Orgue and Récit. The music of this part ist inspirated by many sources: Chamber-music like Trio, Quartett or Quintett, instrumental Solo-movements, Chansons, or Opera-Arias. We meet in the Nrs. 7 to 9 beautifull pieces: a Trio, a Quatour, and a Quintetti. The titles don't describe the number of voices but the number of colors or registrations on different keyboards. Beginning with Nr. 10 we learn the use of special organ stops: Voix humaine (en Rondeau), Duo de Hautbois et de Voix humaine (Thema con varia), Récit de Hautbois, Cromorne avec les Fonds, Morceau de Flûtes. Cromorne en Taille (Nr. 15) follows the French organ tradition of en-Taille-compositions which presents nearly always an Opera-Aria with this form of music. Here can we listen a totally lyrical piece which remembers me to Mozart's "Zauberflöte" when the Queen of the night complains the lost of her daughter.
Part III (Nr. 16 - 19)
Now we have arrived at the first of the two symphonic parts. Lasceux opens here the organ for orchestra-inspirated forms and sounds. The instrumentation of this pieces is according to the type of the typical Haydn-orchestra without trombones. Lasceux wrote in the "Avant propos" to his Essai that the organ can be handled as an orchestra because of its rich possibilities. After a Marche follow a Concerto de Hautbois, a Concerto de Flûte, and a Symphonie Concertante. Lausceux gives room in the last three pieces for a "Point d'Orgue ad Libitum" (or Cadenza) which the executor of this pieces has to improvise or to invent.
PART IV (Nr. 20 - 23)
This second serie of large symphonic pieces presents the old "Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux" in new clothes. The Tutti is the same Grand Jeu as before, but the Discant-Soli are now also registrated with the Trumpet of the Positif or Récit instead with the Cornet. The first pieces is named Choeur fugué. Beginning with the piece (Choeur de Simphonie, Nr. 21) we need now four manual keyboards; the Écho will be introduced. It takes the part  of the Imitation de cors" (= orchestra-horns). This piece includes for the first time in our book a crescendo (called in the Vienna Classic "Walze") which is executed by changing the keyboards. The Choeur en Rondeau has a Minore-part in the middle of the piece. Nr. 23 Fonds d'Orgue is a impressive complaint-movement with very surprising romantic harmonies.
PART V (Nr. 24 - 25)
This parts handles the themes organ and solo-singer and organ and choir. I recorded this two pieces for to ge the matter complete.
PART VI (Nr. 26)
Lasceux writes here that his Essai would be incomplete if he not would add a piece of the "Orage"-genre. We find here a musical painting about the last judgement, called "Judex crederis esse venturus". It starts with a description of the humain life with "Imitation du Tambourin" which will be disturbed by an upcoming storm. The "Orage" opens the last day of the world, followed by the four trunpets from the heaven. All human go to the last judgement illustrated by a Marche Religieuse. A "Récitatif obligé" shows the voice of God which condemns the bad humans. A second "Orage" brings them down to the hell. The last movement is called "Choeur des Élus et des Prédestinés".

I know, it is perhaps only a dream to exspect from his listeners to be patient over 26 pieces in the Style of Classicism. In this respect have one to get over the first four or six items. I listened to all pieces for the preparation of this article. But my expirience was very positive. One enters a perfect and undangerous world: beautiful organ sounds, lyrical melodies, determinated harmonies ... I got a little bit melancholic and nostalgic feelings during that.


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