The viola da gamba depicted here as played by the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia, and a cherub assistant
Marin Marais was a French Baroque composer and viol player. A “viol”, or “viola da gamba”, is a Baroque instrument that is played like a cello, but has a few difference than the cello. The back is flat, not curved, and the shoulders are quite sloped, and not rounded like a cello’s. The holes in the front of the instrument are “C holes”, not “F-holes”, and have more strings (five to seven) than the usual four on a cello. The full Italian name is “viola da gamba”, (“viol for the leg”) and is pronounced like the word “vile” (but really, has a lovely sound).
Marais studied with Jean-Baptiste Lully (they guy who pounded his counting stick into his own foot, thus dying from the subsequent infection) and had a dream job as a musician at the court of Versailles, being appointed “ordinaire de la chambre du roy pour la viole”, a title he kept for 46 years. He was one of the first composers to write program music, meaning pieces that had a narrative, as opposed to a classical form such as a sonata – music for music’s sake. He wrote a work called The Bladder-Stone Operation for viola da gamba and harpsichord, which included annotations like “The patient is bound with silken cords” and “He screameth”, which are read by a narrator. (And I thought Erik Satie had strange instructions). This would be a good work to program around Halloween.
I found an English translation presented by Early Music Alberta, featuring Josephine van Lier, viola da gamba; Marie Giesbrecth, harpsichord; and Dustin Maloney, narrator.
Marin Marais was born May 31 in Paris, France, and died August 15, 1728, also in Paris.