Denis Gaultier: Notes and Commentary

Denis Gaultier (1597 or 1602/3 – 1672), also known as Gaultier le jeune and Gaultier de Paris, was a French lutenist and composer, born in Paris, either in 1597 or 1603. Little is known about his career. He may have studied under lutenist Charles Racquet, and until at least 1631, he was closely linked to his older cousin, Ennemond. Writers of the period referred to both of them as “Gaultier,” making it difficult to distinguish between them.

Both lutenists had connections with Blancrocher and Henri de L’Enclos, and both secured a high reputation. In 1635 Denis married Françoise Daucourt. Their son Philippe Emmanuel would later become advisor to the king, but there is no evidence that Gaultier himself ever held a court position. Denis most probably gained fame and income through salon playing.

Gaultier’s output, as is to be expected from a 17th-century French lutenist, consists mainly of dance suites for the lute. In general, Gaultier was a masterful melodist, effortlessly writing graceful melodic lines with clear phrase structures, but his music is less inventive harmonically than that of some other French lutenists of the era, such as René Mesangeau or Pierre Dubut.

Three published collections of Gaultier’s music are known, all from his late years. La rhétorique des dieux (1652) contains 12 parts, each named after one of the Greek modes. The collection, compiled under the patronage of Anne de Chambré, also contains engravings after Le Sueur, Abraham Bosse and Robert de Nanteuil. Two other collections, Pièces de luth sur trois différens modes nouveaux (c. 1669) and Livre de tablature (c. 1672) both begin with basic instructions on lute playing. All three manuscripts consist principally of dances. The one other genre Gaultier made a contribution to is the tombeau.

An adequate assessment of Gaultier’s music and influence is difficult due to attribution problems. La rhétorique des dieux may consist of works not composed by Gaultier or that were composed in collaboration with his cousin Ennemond or that were changed later by others. The 1672 collection was completed after Gaultier’s death by his pupil Montarcis, and contains music by Gaultier and his cousin. Other pieces, found in various manuscripts, also pose attribution problems. Nevertheless, Gaultier was an important exponent of the French style brisé, and as such an influence on harpsichordists. Around 1680 a few of Gaultier’s works were included in anthologies by Perrine, a French theorist who experimented with the writing of lute music in staff notation.—Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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