Alain Louvier (2018)
HERBIER VII for flute and harpsichord 14’21
After Herbier 1 (2 flutes),
Herbier 2 (mandolin, guitar, and harp) in 1/8 tones
Herbier 3 (flute and 4 guitars),
Herbier 4 (harpsichord and piano),
Herbier 5 (horn and percussion),
Herbier 6 (double basses and narrators),
….here is Herbier 7, for flute and harpsichord….
Written for a typically baroque formation, Herbier 7 is distinguishable, however, through the scordatura of the harpsichord, where the upper keyboard features 7 keys lowered by a ¼ tone, according to a sequence of perfect fourths:
C2, F2, A#2, D#3, G#3, C#4, F#4
Specific harmonies are heard, using unusual pentatonic modes, based on 3/4, 5/4, or 7/4 tones, available on the upper keyboard, or ¼ tone beats by the coupling of both keyboards, sounding like slightly discordant bird calls …
The flute (and the piccolo) may also play other ¼ tones, the language used here being more “post-baroque”
As in the other Herbiers, the titles are named after plants (with their Latin scientific names). For Herbier 7, I chose plants, generally trees or shrubs, which have been used for making flutes, of extreme diversity from time immemorial. Reed or bamboo, of course, but also boxwood or ebony…
These 7 little duets are of increasing duration; from the shortest to the longest
Juniper (n°7), Pearwood (5), Ebony (3), Sycamore (1), Reed (2), Bamboo (4), Boxwood (6)
Being multiplied each time by 1.32, the 7th root of 7…
The seven plants of Herbier 7….
1 – Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus (1min25)
The wood of the sycamore maple is one of the most precious of European forest hardwoods. It is light-colored and homogeneous, and can therefore be easily stained. But it is also a hard wood, appreciated in carpentry, furnishing, parquetry and sculpture. It is highly valued by instrument makers for making flutes, bassoons, as well as bodies for string instruments.
Its fruit are L-shaped keys or ‘samaras’ which, in autumn, look like small parachutes falling in a spiral…
7/4 and 7/8 measures; some shrill, quarter-tone cuckoo-fourths , and trills/spins can be found throughout this somewhat casual piece….
2 – Reed Phragmites australis (1min55)
Also called ‘common reed’ or ‘ditch reed’, this plant is commonly found across the globe, in moist, cool soils, along rivers, lakes, and ponds. It appreciates muddy soils and is resistant to stagnation in water, but is sensitive to salt. The inflorescences were utilized to make small brooms. The plant may be used to stabilize erosion-prone areas, and is also regarded as an invasive plant. Many flutes are made of reed, such as the panpipe.
Its legendary flexibility (‘I bend, but I do not break’) produces quasi rubato arabesques: perfect fourths brushing against one another in quarter-tones, triplets, quintuplets, septuplets, nonuplets… thus avoiding the sensation of a straight line, unthinkable for a reed…
3 – Ebony of Mozambique Diospiros melanoxylon (1min 10)
A tree which originates in the dry regions of Africa located between Eastern Senegal, Eritrea, and Southern Transvaal in South Africa.
It is a small tree 4 to 15 meters in height, with a grey, prickly bark, and deciduous foliage in the dry season, with pinnate leaves. The flowers are white, formed in dense clusters. The fruit is a pod 3 to 7 cm in length, containing one or two seeds. It is sometimes called African Blackwood.
Baroque flutes are often made of ebony.
Evocation of the Renaissance dances, with short and long pieces alternating freely. The main melody, with frequently repeating notes, uses a special 1/4 -tone alphabet to translate a few lines jumping from one subject to another:
… Raga de la harangère – Ebène – la rage de bois coupé, fracassé – Mégère d’avant-garde….
4 – Bamboo Phillostachys Viridiglaucescens (2min 35)
Originating from Asia, bamboos are fast-growing plants. They are ideal for quickly building hedges, screens, windbreaks, etc.…due to their high adaptability and the huge diversity of their varieties. The foliage is a shiny green on top, a glaucous green underneath. They have been used from time immemorial to make flutes, especially in Japan.
Seven sequences of 21 seconds, in a cadenza, alternatingly given to the harpsichord and the flute; gamelan-type sounds produced by using 3/4-tone intervals on the upper keyboard; “gusts of wind” in arpeggios, where the flute plays at unsteady speed, as if to warn of an impending storm.
5 – Pearwood Pyrus communis (1min )
Pearwood is a cultivated species native to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia. It can reach twenty meters in height and live up to 300 years. It is grown and naturalized on every continent. Its 5-petal rosette flowers, white with light-pink buds, cover the pear tree all of a sudden… Springtime is here.
Pearwood is mostly used for recorders.
An ultra-short piece in the form A-B-A’: A in a supple polyphony of quintuplets, A’ likewise repeated on the piccolo.
B is more rhythmical, in 15/8: perfect chords ‘distorted’ with the buff stop, coupled with the lower four-foot. The combination is somewhat aggressive…
6 – Boxwood buxus sempervirens (3min 10)
Boxwood originates from Southern Europe and Asia Minor. As its botanical name indicates, it is an evergreen. It requires an adequately calcareous, not overly moist soil. Boxwood can live up to six hundred years. Once pruned, it is used for garden edging (as already described by Pliny in Roman villas).
Boxwood, a very hard wood giving the smoothest surfaces, was the essence most widely used for flutes in the Baroque period, because it enabled to obtain a brilliant tone, well suited to solo instruments.
Since about 2010, boxwood has been severely attacked by a moth from China, the boxwood moth (see the caterpillar on the picture)
This piece is intended solely for the 8-foot lower choir, and can therefore be played on a spinet or virginal. With its slow, hieratic tempo like a chaconne, it offers a flow of contrasting sound variations (multiphonic or tongue-ram for the flute, flailing palms or sliding forearms on the harpsichord). The very slow tempo enables long values to be divided into uneven numbers, up to 11 or 15…
7- Juniper « cade » Juniperus oxycedrus (45 sec)
Cade, or cade juniper, is a small tree or shrub frequently found on the Mediterranean coastline (from Morocco to Iran), characteristic of pine forests and scrublands. Cones, which are eatable when fresh, are brown to orange. The tree is sometimes called prickly cedar, or sharp cedar. Juniper – which is relatively insensitive to humidity – is used as a cork material. It is difficult to carve, as it is very hard and cracks easily.
This is a virtuoso piece in precise lines, which becomes gradually “dirty” through the use of clusters on the harpsichord. Framed by the word ‘CADE’ translating into the notes C-A-D-E…. Herbier 7 ends with the piccolo.
Traduit en anglais par Elisabeth Torné