Dominique Vellard’s new take on Early Music


The major areas explored by Dominique Vellard in his musical career are rooted in his childhood experiences -as a choirboy at Notre-Dame de Versailles- that gave rise to his passionate love of Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, French composers of the seventeenth century and Bach organ music and chorales.

vellard03Soon after completing his studies at the Versailles conservatory, Dominique Vellard decided to concentrate his work on Medieval and  Renaissance  repertoires, fields in which he felt he was entirely free to express his musical aesthetics.

Les Escholiers de Paris: Motets, Songs & Estampies of the Thirteenth Century

Most pieces on this record are motets, the most important genre in Paris from c.1230 on written for a small group of connoisseurs. Grocheio says the motetus “should not be offered in the presence of the common man, because he cannot apprehend its subtleties, nor will he rejoice in hearing them. It should be performed for the literate people” – meaning university and ecclesiastical circles – “and for those who search for these subtleties. And it is sung during their feasting, just as the rondeau is sung in the feasts of the common man.”

Motets were important enough to be collected in large and costly manuscripts. We have used three of them. A codex of 400 leaves, containing some 340 pieces is the largest and most interesting source. It was written, notated and illuminated in a Parisian workshop and is now lying in Montpellier. A recent investigation of the manuscript, using information from art history, seems to indicate that it was written rather earlier than common musicological opinion has held until now, possibly during the 1260’s, in any case before 1280. This implies a redating of the music of the last two parts, which was thought to have been composed during the last decade of the 13th century or even the first of the 14th.

The collection is carefully ordered according to genre (it has some hoquetus, organa and conductus beside motets), number of voices (ranging from 2 to 4), language (French as well as Latin) and style. Another manuscript, now preserved in Bamberg, was probably written in the German Rhineland somewhere between 1260 and 1290. It contains some 65 leaves with music and another 15 leaves with a theoretical treatise. This collection has about 100 three-part motets ordered alphabetically and by language, and a few other pieces such as “In seculum viellatoris” [11] and “In seculum d’Amiens”. The 55 motets in the La Clayette manuscript, written in the Ile-de-France around 1260, form only a small part of the contents. The same manuscript contains the Miracles by Gautier de Coincy, which is also of interest to musicians; the remaining items are of literary value.

Alongside his “medieval career”, Dominique Vellard has kept up his involvement in other repertoires, exploring the fruitful possibilities of encounters between the earliest works in his repertoire and traditions as varied as North and South Indian Classic repertories, Breton Guerz and Spanish traditions.

Dominique Vellard has made more than forty recordings, whether as soloist, conductor, or at the head of the Ensemble Gilles Binchois, which he has directed since 1979.

vellard04He has taught at the Schola Cantorum in Basel since 1982. He is also the Artistic director of the festival “Les Rencontres Internationales de Musique Médiévale du Thoronet”.

As a composer, he writes regularly, for the Ensemble Gilles Binchois and for friends, mostly vocal music.   Vellard’s compositions are rooted in his regular practice of sacred repertoire and the pieces he has chosen to set to music are, as for his first CD, Vox nostra resonet, released on Glossa in 2007, essential works of the liturgical repertoire and again with his 2015 release, Cantica Sacra.

It is, of course, the voice that is of prime importance in these compositions: men’s voices take the role of traditional chantres, or cantors; women’s voices having a more peaceful role or, joining with the five men’s voices and thereby expanding the sound palette, colouring it with rich harmonics.

vellard02Dominique Vellard’s writing, aside from the solo monodic parts, is always contrapuntal, this style of composition being entrenched in him owing to his familiarity with great Mediaeval and Renaissance repertoire. Furthermore, his concern for clarity of the discourse incites him to use a natural, clear prosody. To this liturgical material he has added two suites of short motets for solo voice and viols on the text of The Song of Songs, as well as the magnificent text of the “Beatitudes” for two women’s voices.

In concert, these pieces are meant to create a dialogue with early repertoire, leading the listener to perceive the newness and originality of this writing at the same time as its belonging to a long musical tradition.

Since 1979 Dominique Vellard has been the inspirational driving force behind the Ensemble Gilles Binchois – nearly three decades of research and performance that have led to the creation of some of the essential recordings in the catalogue, especially of music from the Medieval and early Renaissance periods.

Dominique Vellard Discography

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