De Temporum Fine Postludia

Last update: March 17, 2014




Tombeau as an art form has considerable relevance to the existential question "How and why does tragedy produce pleasure?" Many have pondered this, and the most interesting answer was given by Terry Eagleton who said that the answer is in all likelyhood religious, since in the words of St. Paul "we die every moment", so "we could disarm death by rehearsing it here and now in the self-bestowals of life".

In instrumental music, tombeau signifies a musical "tombstone" (French le tombeau = tomb). The musical genre of tombeau is generally connected with music for the lute of the 17th and 18th centuries. Of some 60+ surviving pieces, most are intended for the lute or theorbo, 5 for the baroque guitar, 7 for the viola da gamba and 3 for harpsicord. The earliest example of this genre seems to be the Tombeau de Mezangeau (1638) by French lutenist Ennemond Gaultier.

Musical predecessors are memorial pavans like those by Anthony Holborne (Countess of Pembrokes Funeralle, 1599). In France, where this musical genre emerged first, strong influence of literary models, particularly of memorial poems that were popular from the 16th to the end end of 17th centuries, may have been another important factor.

The tombeau preeminently comes in two forms, as a slow elegiac allemande grave in 4/4 or as a pavan, a tri-partite renaissance dance already long out of date for the era of tombeaux, but with all the trappings of the allemande (cf. Denis Gaultier, Tombeau pour M. Racquette). There are also a few unique tombeaux that appear as gigues; that is because the gigue grave resembles the allemande in a number or respects. Some appear as Courantes.

As opposed to the Italian lamento, the tombeau should not have used expressive elements of mourning, which were skeptically viewed in France. Nevertheless, certain typical onomatopoetic features were used: repeated note motifs depicting the knocking of Death at the door, ascending or descending diatonic or chromatic scales which depict the soul's tribulation and transcendence. Froberger's Lamentation on the Death of Ferdinand III or the Meditation sur ma Mort Future would be a prime example of such a form. Some tombeaux include a motif of four descending notes, a metaphor for grief given influential expression by John Dowland in his Lachrimae (1604). These genres offered many suitable expressive characteristics: the suspirans figure (a three-note upbeat), dotted rhythms, particularly in repeated notes, and slow-moving harmonies in the minor mode whose gravity is heightened by a tendency to settle on pedal points. Later examples also tend to use chromatic progressions related to the lamento bass. The few courante tombeaux exploit the same rhythmic features in triple metre.

Developed by Parisian lutenists (Denis Gaultier, Charles Mouton, Jacques Gallot, Du Fault), the genre was soon taken over by clavecinists (J. J. Froberger, Louis Couperin, both on the death of their friend Blancrocher in 1652) and was then spread into Central Europe (J. A. Losy, Sylvius Leopold Weiss).

Interestingly, tombeaux flourished in Catholic territories, where there was dearth of elaborate funeral music. At the end of the 18. century, the tombeau faded and was redicovered only at the opening of 20th century (cf. Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin, 1919). The tombeaux from the 20th century are homages to the baroque era, even though some of them are dedicated to historical figures (cf. Roman Turovsky-Savchuk).


"...In accord with what happened with the celebrated piece of Giazotto, the clearly improbable provenance of which was deliberately hidden, we recall the original case of the north American composer of Ukrainian origin, Roman Turovsky-Savchuk. It is he who, in implicit disguise, is behind a long list of tombeaux written in baroque style with the highly baroque pseudonyms of an imaginary family of Bohemian lute players, the Sautscheks (Johann Geog, Johann Melchior, Johann Peter…)

The works are disseminated on the internet, where they receive a passionate response for, among other things, their unquestionable musical quality. The body of work of this suggestive historical game includes a good number of pieces of fiction cleverly similar in their style. They are dedicated by the Sautscheks to deceased members of their own family, to central European composers of the first rank (CPE Bach, JCF Bach, Locatelli, Tuma, Kraus, Wagenseil, Zelenka and—a nice touch—several to Froberger) as well as to other relevant personalities of the cultured world of the eighteenth century (Goldoni, Lessing, Klopstock). But now Turovsky-Savchuk adds two more tombeaux, this time conceived for the viola and dedicated to Telemann and Forqueray.

Let us finish by returning to all the strings. To the cry of agony of the works of Penderecki, to the stream of tears of Barber, played on the baroque lute of Turovsky-Savchuk or, as well, on the arabic lute of Sánchez Verdú. They are equal if they are anything. They grasp at life as its sounds evaporate.They grasp at the sound that dies, never to be reborn. One perceives the mythic lyre of Orpheus grieving for Euridice. And also the Seikilos epitaph, calling to Euterpe from the living world. But above all, one remembers the weeping strings of the guitar to which Lorca alludes, the tears which Estrella Morente evokes, wailing ceaselessly before the tomb of his artist father.

- Pablo de Pozo"


* Art. Tombeau, in: Brockhaus-Riemann Musiklexikon, 2. Aufl. 1995,: Bd. 4, S. 247
* Art. Lamento, in: Brockhaus-Riemann Musiklexikon: 2. Aufl. 1995, Bd. 3, S. 9
* Günther Birkner, Art. Tombeau, in: MGG, Kassel 1986, Bd. 13, S. 477-478
* M. Brenet: ‘ Les tombeaux en musique’, RHCM, iii (1903), 568–75, 631–8
* W. Mellers: François Couperin and the French Classical Tradition (London, 1950/R)
* M. Rollin: ‘ Le tombeau chez les luthistes Denys Gautier, Jacques Gallot, Charles Mouton’, XVIIe siècle, nos.21–2 (1954), 463–79
* M. Rollin: ‘ Les tombeaux de Robert de Visée’, XVIIe siècle, no.34 (1957), 73–8
* R.T. Dart: ‘ Miss Mary Burwell's Instruction Book for the Lute’, GSJ, xi (1958), 33–69
* C. van den Borren: ‘Esquisse d'une histoire des “tombeaux” musicaux’, Académie royale de Belgique: bulletin de la classe des beaux-arts, xliii (1961); abridged in SMw, xxv (1962), 56–67
* C. Wood: ‘Orchestra and Spectacle in the tragédie en musique, 1673–1715: Oracle, sommeil and tempête’, PRMA, cviii (1981–2), 25–46
* D. Ledbetter: Harpsichord and Lute Music in Seventeenth-Century France (diss., U. of Oxford, 1985)
* C. Goldberg: Stilisierung als kunstvermittelnder Prozess: die französischen Tombeau-Stücke im 17. Jahrhundert (Laaber, 1987)
* P. Vendrix: ‘Le tombeau en musique en France à l'époque baroque’, RMFC, xxv (1987)



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