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Fleur de Lys - CC1028

Fleur de Lys

Charles Medlam - bass viol


Exploring the 50 years of French music that influenced J.S Bach’s Six Cello Suites

Four suites for solo bass viol performed on an instrument of the period

Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello are the most popular and well known solo cello works ever written. They have become some of the most inspirational and influential compositions written for the instrument.

But where did Bach take his inspiration from? In the half a century before the Cello Suites the European musical world was dominated by the Italian and French styles. It was in France (1650 to 1700) that the form for these Suites was being honed to perfection by composers writing for the bass viol. Le Sieur Dubuisson and Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe were two of the most prolific composers writing for the viol in the 17th Century. Sainte-Colombe was taught by Nicolas Hotman who, in turn, taught Marin Marais. Sainte-Colombe was a celebrated master of the instrument and is the composer of no less than 67 concerts à deux violles and 170 pieces for solo seven string viol. Nicolas Hotman and Le Sieur De Machy studied the viol together and in their own ways had a major influence on the development and stabilisation of the dance suite for solo bass instrument during the latter part of the 17th Century.

However, it was Marin Marais who bridged the gap between the late 17th century and the early 18th century up to and during the writing of Bach’s masterpieces. Marais, an incomparable French gambist whose works are known in all of Europe, left us one of the most important and influential bodies of music for the instrument.

CHARLES MEDLAM studied the cello in London, Paris, Vienna and Salzburg before becoming interested in the bass viol and early performing styles. After a year lecturing and playing in the resident string quartet at the Chinese University of Hong Kong he returned to Europe and studied with Maurice Gendron at the Paris Conservatoire, Wolfang Herzer in Vienna and subsequently cello with Heidi Litschauer and performance practice with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg. After graduating with distinction from the Mozarteum he pursued his interest in the viol on frequent courses with Wieland Kuijken. He founded London Baroque with Ingrid Seifert in 1978.

Charles plays baroque music on a Perugian cello made by Finnocchi circa 1720 and later music on a Lorenzo Ventapane made in Naples in 1806. His bass viol is an English instrument from around 1680, possibly by Barak Norman, which has had a seventh string added for the French repertoire.

Fleur de Lys is a fascinating exploration of beautiful and rarely-heard repertoire.

This recording is an important historical document charting the evolution of the classical suite.

Free download (complete track mp3):
Nicolas Hotman - Ballet

Focus article on Charles Medlam