Houston Early Music

Paolo Pandolfo, viola da Gamba


8:00 pm, Sat. Jan. 14, 2006
Bethany Christian Church,
3223 Westheimer



Suite from Pieces de Viole,                                                         Sieur de Sainte-Colombe                     (Manuscripts of Panmure and of Edinburgh)                               (fl 2nd half 17th Cen.)










Prelude, Le Labyrinthe                                                                        Marin Marais




Tombeau pour Monsieur de Ste. Colombe                                          Marais





Prelude & Chacone en rondeau                                                           Robert de Visée

                                                                                                                (ca. 1650-1725)


From Suites N1 and N3                                                                      Antoine Forqueray                                                                                                                  (1671-1745)

La Regente

La Portugaise

La Bellemont

La Couperin

La Ferrand

La Du Vaucel*

Chaconne La Morangis*


* Pieces by Jean Baptiste Forqueray



Paolo Pandolfo is represented in USA by Latitude45 Arts Promotion Inc. of Montreal





During the XVII and XVIII Century, Sieur de Sainte-Colombe, Marin Marais, and Antoine Forqueray were the three most important names in the French viola da gamba universe.


Although the history of the development of the viol is very complex and dates back to exchanges between Arabic and Christian civilizations in 14th-century Southern Spain, it is impossible to deny that the viola da gamba, reached the height of its glory at the magnificent  European courts in Paris and Versailles.


In the middle of 17th Century, after  two centuries of refinement, the “Spirit” of the viol had definitely left Southern Europe and rather preferring to breath the northern and more humid winds of France, England and Germany.


André Maugars, an important French viol player in the middle of the 17th Century, experienced the state of gamba playing throughout Europe: the incredible skill of the English in playing and improvising (a skill inherited from the Italians half century before and of which Maugars was extremely proud of having learned in the four years he spent in London); the difficult relations with the absolute power in France (from where he was banished ); and lastly, the miserable state of viol playing in Italy around 1640, the land which had given the initial impulse to it and where nobody even remembered the name of Orazio Bassani “detto della Viola.” 


Having been active in the second half of the 17th century, Sainte-Colombe is close enough to Maugars to be himself a bridge between the tradition of viol playing coming from England/Italy and the definition of a French viol style. His approach, full of freedom and Italian/English influences, showed a esthetic of sound (he added the 7th string) and a new formal structure, which would soon become well known as the “French Suite.”


Moreover, Sainte-Colombe, who was referred to in most French viol tutors and treatises of the time as the “Master of All,” is generally believed to have created and clearly defined the French viol style.


But it is unnecessary to search so far (in Antiquity) for praises of the viol: one may turn his gaze to Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, whom we can rightly call the Orpheus of our times; he is well known for his merit and knowledge, and if he has produced some outstanding pupils, those pupils owe it to their master’s singular kindness and to the special care he put into teaching them his art; and they ought to acknowledge with ingenuity that it was from him that they learned to perfect the elegant hand shift, those beautiful cadences, and finally the manner of creating harmonies now tender, now brilliant, that so pleasingly surprise the ear; as for me, I will take honour all my life in endorsing his precepts judging him as a master who has procured me whatever knowledge I have about the viol...” (Danoville’s The Art of playing the Viol)


“….in short, all those who have the privilege of pleasing, owe it to Mr. de St. Colombe’s principles, and should anyone seek the perfection of the art of the viol by other means, he would stray from it and never find it..” (Jean Rousseau’s Dissertation about the Origin of the Viol)


The story of Marin Marais hiding himself in the room where the master was playing in order to learn the secrets of his playing has been made famous by the movie Toutes les Matins du Monde and has some historical basis.  Sainte-Colombe resisted the appeal of the Court and was probably one of the last “free artists” in a world that was concentrating its artistic energies around and inside the Court. This is probably why Sainte-Colombe still taught pupils, not being afraid of being outshown by the skills of an exceptional pupil. After him, the great Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray, perhaps fearing too much the potential success of pupils, never taught the viol.


Marin Marais’ “Le Labyrinthe” was considered within even a few years of his death a masterpiece.  Titon du Tillet writes in 1732 :


 …we are familiar with the fecundity and the beauty of the genius of Marin Marias by the quantity of works he composed. We always find in them good taste and surprising variety: his great sagacity appears in many of his works, but mainly in two of his pieces that the Master of Art consider very highly: the piece titled “Le Labyrinthe” and in his Piece called “La Gamme”. In the first one after roaming through various keys, touching diverse dissonances, and underlining, first with sombre tones and lately with lively and sprightly ones, the uncertainty of a man lost in a labyrinth, the composer manages happily to find the way out at last and finishes with a graceful and natural sounding Chaconne…


The “Tombeau pour Monsieur de Ste. Colombe” traces step by step the path of the great French viol music. The epitaph, the mourning over the death of his old Master, shows the artistic depth and human sensitivity of Marais and has been considered ever since amongst the greatest viol masterpieces.


With Antoine Forqueray (and Jean Baptiste, his son, who published his music and signed three of the pieces contained in the book) we reach the highest point of the viol’s development in France.


In Italy, there was a new development which would effect the entire European music scene within a few years: the art of Italian violin playing.


The famous querelle between the Italian and the French style might in fact be exemplified by a virtual querelle between the viole da gambe and the violin, exactly as described in Hubert Le Blancs’ Defense de la Basse de Viol contre les Entréprises du Violon et les Pretencions du Violoncel which title is sufficient to understand the atmosphere (Defense of the Bass Viol against the Enterprises of the Violin and the Pretensions of the Cello).  Le Blanc also shows how much of it had a strictly social background, being that the  violin was played by the middle class and the viol by the aristocracy (“…La Musique…passeroit du Cabinet Royale au Vestibule…”).


We owe to Maugars the report of colorful nicknames for Marais and Forqueray, describing the first as an Angel, and the second as a Devil (“…the one had been declared as playing as an Angel, and the other as playing like a Devil..”). In fact, Forqueray’s personality had to be quite impressive. Great musician, great viol player, great composer… he didn’t leave one single piece published but preferred to improvise; he apparently managed to have his own son first arrested and then exiled, as the son’s viol playing threatened to be more appreciated at Court than the father’s.


Forqueray was clearly very influenced by the development of Italian violin playing over all Europe, aristocratic France included. Always Le Blanc writes “…Forcroi father, after having listened to the father Marais and having shaped himself within the Beautiful Style founded another School of way of playing the Sonatas in the most correct way, producing a sparkling sound of a spicy taste, reconciling the French Harmony of the resonance to the Italian Melody…”


The Mercure de France (August 1738) describes how “he wished to do on the viol everything that they  (the Italian violinists) could do on the violin.”  The report continues that “…he succeeded in his ambition, translating their technical acrobatics into passage-work for the viol 'with startling accuracy'; this made his music 'more piquant and more recherche' than that of Marais…”


After Antoine Forqueray’s death, his son, Jean Baptiste, took his place at Court, but the viol was already being gradually abandoned. In 1747 Jean Baptiste published a book containing Five Long Suites of Pieces by his father, adding, according to him, some of his own pieces. He did make some effort to transmit his art toward Germany,  to Fridrich Wilhelm of Prussia, who, after some exchange about viol playing with Jean Baptiste, will turn to the cello a few years later and will be the dedicatee of  Ludvig van Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas.


Paolo Pandolfo

November 2005




“...Paolo Pandolfo is emerging in the last years as one of the most important gambists of his generation within the European Early Music scene” (American Record Guide, 1997)

“The viola da gamba is Paolo Pandolfo’s voice, and he plays it with the charismatic genius of a great singer.

Pandolfo has been associated with some of the greatest figures of the early music  movement, including Jordi Savall and Rinaldo Alessandrini, he has held his own by becoming his own man. There is no one like him – he has even created a commanding position for himself in relation to Savall, which is comparable to a cellist’s finding a way to occupy an honorable place to the same universe as Yo-Yo Ma."  (The Boston Globe.  June 16, 2001. Richard Dyer)

Paolo Pandolfo began his research in the field of renaissance and baroque musical idioms in 1979 with violinist Enrico Gatti and harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini. He then studied with Jordi Savall at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis  in Switzerland.


In 1982, he became a member of Jordi Savall's ensemble Hesperion XX with which he performed throughout the world until 1990, making many recordings (among them Bach's Kunst der Fuge, John Dowland’s Consort music and Neapolitan Renaissance Music).


In 1990, after the huge success of his first recording as a soloist (C.P.E.Bach's Sonatas for Viola da Gamba), Mr. Pandolfo was nominated Professor of Viola da Gamba at his alma mater, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. Since this appointment, he concentrates his teaching activities in Basel, while his performing carrier takes him all over the world, playing with artists such as Emma Kirkby, Rolf Lislevand, Rinaldo Alessandrini, Mitzi Meyerson, and José Miguel Moreno.


Since 1992 he has directed Labyrinto, a group of four or five viola da gambas, which is dedicated to the vast “consort music” repertoire.


Paolo Pandolfo has recorded for radio and television stations worldwide and for record companies such as Astree, Emi, Philips, Erato, Harmonia Mundi, Tactus, and Simphonia. Since 1997 he records exclusively for the leading Spanish record company, GLOSSA. His first recoring for GLOSSA, in 1997, was the first complete recording  of A.Forqueray's Pieces de Viole, which was followed by The Spirit of Gambo with music by Tobias Hume, performed by Labyrinto and Emma Kirkby. His first  unaccompained recital, A Solo, was named one of the best releases of the year in 1998 by Gramophone. He has dedicated two releases to M. Marais':  Le Labyrinthe et autres histoires and Le Grand Ballet.  His  transcription  of J.S. Bach's  six Solo Suites, released in 2000, in addition to its great success, is considered an important musical event.  All his recordings have received intensely  positive reviews and many  awards from the most prestigious musical magazines such as Gramophone, Le Monde de La Musique, Goldberg, Scherzo, and Diapason.


Mr. Pandolfo  is regularly invited to perform and give masterclasses all over the world. He believes it is important to  build bridges between the past and the present, and to bring spontaneous life to each performance of baroque and renaissance music.  Using improvisation, transcriptions and composition of modern pieces, Mr. Pandolfo is convinced that the heritage of early music can be a powerful inspiration for the future of western musical tradition.


Thomas C. Boysen was born in Oslo, Norway in 1970 into a family of musicians. He studied classical guitar and lute at the Norwegian State Academy of Music. After achieving his diploma there in 1995 he went to Germany to study with Prof. Rolf Lislevand at the State Academy of Music in Trossingen.


Since finishing his studies Thomas C. Boysen has established himself as an accomplished lutenist and continuo player and has among others things been working with Balthasar-Neumann-Ensemble, Oman Consort, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Armonico Tributo Austria. He has participated in concerts, CD-, television- and radio-productions with some of the most important musicians in the European early music scene, such as Emma Kirkby, Paolo Pandolfo and Rolf Lislevand.  Since 2001 he also teaches Basso Continuo at the State Academy of Music in Trossingen.


Marie Gelis was born in Saint-Louis, in the Alsacien area of France, into a family of musicians. She made her debut at the harpsichord at the age of five.


Between 1998-2001 she studied with Elisabeth Gay at l’Ecole Nationale de Musique de Mulhouse (France). In 2001 she received a Gold Medal in Harpsichord performance and a Diplôme d’Etudes Musicales (DEM)


Continuing her studies, she worked with Arnaud Pumir in Grenoble (France) and entered the prestigious Schola Cantorum de Bâle (Switzerland) in 2002 where she was in the class of Jörg Andreas Botticher. In 2004, she finished her studies at the Conservatoire National de Région de Strasbourg (France) in the class of Aline Sylberhasch.


Ms. Gelis began performing at an early age and appeared on stage in La Guerre de dix Ans, directed by Jean-Louis Vuillermoz which was presented in Dôle, Lons-le-Sauniers, Besançon, Verge (1995-1996). In 1997, she appeared in Malade imaginaire,  directed by Armand Laurant at the  Festival de Magstadt and in 2002, in Trétaux de Vauban  in Huningue.


She has performed with the Neues Orchester Basel ( Switzerland)under the direction of Bela Guyas (2003) in works by Vivaldi and Bach with the Trio Affetti et Artificiat the Festival International de Musique Baroque de Mulhouse (2005).


In 2005 Ms. Gelis was invited by the internationally-renowned viola da gambist,  Paolo Pandolfo to perform in his musical presentations.


Since 2002, she has taught at L’Ecole des Arts du Centre Culturel des Coteaux  in Mulhouse, France.





Paolo Pandolfo -- Original French 7-string bass viol attributed to Nicolas Bertrand. One     of the very few original French instruments with almost no restoration.


Thomas Boysen --  Theorbo by Francisco Hervas, Granada, Spain 1995,

            . Guitar by Lars Tørressen, Oslo, Norway 1993