Marin Marais

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Marin Marais, who lived in Paris all his life, became a renown exponent and virtuoso of the bass viol, both as a composer and an extemporaneous improviser on the instrument. His teacher was the historically obscure composer Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, himself a highly independent virtuoso and teacher who refused an invitation to be included in Jean Baptiste Lully's orchestra in the court of Louis XIV, preferring to live in his small garden house with his two daughters, where, rumor has it, he was visited by the ghost of his dead wife. After six months of teaching Marais, Saint Columbe declared that Marin had become so competent that he had nothing else to teach him. Marais also studied composition with Lully, helped produce his operas, and played in the royal orchestra. Marais also composed four operas, instrumental music that could often be arranged to be played by several instruments other than the original instrument for which they were written. But he is most famous for the five books of bass viol pieces that contain over 550 individual compositions. He eventually married and had 19 children.

This history is recounted in the exquisitely beautiful, slow paced, and highly musical film Tous les matins du monde (1991) (aka All the Mornings of the World and Every Morning of the World), written and directed by Alain Corneau. The cast includes Jean-Pierre Marielle as Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, Gérard Depardieu as the mature Marin Marais who narrates from his diary, and Gérard's real-life son Guillaume Depardieu in the role of the young Marais. The moving soundtrack includes excellently performed selections from the music of Lully, Sainte Colombe (Les Pleurs, Le Retour, Prelude in G Minor), François Couperin (the very touching Leçon de Ténèbres 3, for two treble voices and continuo), various anonymous pieces (Une jeune fillette, Fantaisie in E Minor), and a generous collection of excerpts from Marais' own compositions: Les folies d'Espagne for flute (or viola da gamba) and continuo; La Reveuse and Le Badinage from the Pièces à une ou deux violes avec basse continue Bk. 4; L'Arabesque; the tribute in memoriam of his teacher Tombeau pour Mr de Sainte Colombe from Bk. 2 of the Piéces; several Muzettes; and the wonderful La Sonnerie de Sainte Geneviève du Mont à Paris for violin, viola da gamba, and continuo in which the persistent ringing of the "bells" is imaginatively wrought.

The use of Marais' music was motivated by quite a different purpose than historical realism when it was adapted for the odd, often cheesy satire on sci-fi film called Liquid Sky (1982), directed by Slava Tsukerman. The film concerns aliens who have come to Earth to score heroin. Scenes and music from Marais' much-admired opera Alcione (1706) have appeared in the live performance film William Christie et Les Arts Florissants, ou La passion du baroque (1994), directed by Andrea Kirsch, and in Véra Belmont's Marquise (1997). This opera is filled with much beautiful writing and contains an impressive storm scene.