'The original manuscript of the enclosed collection was found at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris (ref. Res. Vm 7-366) by Belgian musicologist Philippe Mercier, under the guidance of Carl de Nys. The first set of variations on Ah, vous dirai-je Maman was recorded by harpist Yvette Colignon in 1978 on an LP devoted to harp music composed by masters originally from the Walloon (French-speaking) area of Belgium.
The attribution of this set to Gretry (1741-1813), a native of Liège who used the harp extensively, is unproven. Assuredly, these pieces seem to date from around 1770-1780, a time when the single-action pedal harp enjoyed a great vogue and Paris was swarming with harp teachers. To cite just a few: Beaumarchais, Mme de Genlis, Hinner, Hochbrücker, Petrini and Krumpholtz.
The collection features marches from two of Grétry's operas: Le Huron, his first great success in Paris premiered in 1768 and Les deux avares in 1770. Both operas were remarkable in their time for their dramatic characterizations and genuine expression of sentiments. One of Grétry's daughters, Lucile, was a harpist and also became a published and performed composer. Unfortunately, just like her sisters, she died in early adulthood to her parents' immense chagrin.
The Menuet Du Roÿ de Prusse obviously refers to Frederick II the Great (1712-1786), the king of Prussia famous for his love of French culture, his flute playing and armies marching to music. The Menuet bears the marks of his usual practice to write out the melody and the bass only, leaving it to others to complete the inner voices, which can results in some awkward passages.
Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1794), an Italian violin virtuoso and composer, established himself in Amsterdam from 1729 on. His violin concertos and the 24 violin caprices for unaccompanied violin did much to establish his reputation beyond his lifetime. His sonatas for violin, considered the best among his works, were systematically laid out in three movements, of which the last, the finale, often consisted of a menuet theme followed by a series of variations.
The classical era was very fond of grace notes, trills and turns. In the following compositions you will find all manners of ornamentation, made as explicit as possible by the modern symbols used. Each situation demands careful consideration within the context. Appogiaturas have been written out according to hints gleamed in the text. Trills and turns should be started on the upper note unless they are approached from an upper note. The mordents should be executed as quick "inverted mordents," a group of three notes whose middle note lies above the principal note.
From a historical point of view, it is fascinating to read into the "harp mentality" of the unknown writer. With each ensuing variation, a new door is opened, showcasing distinct technical patterns and expressive decorative devices with growing rhythmic complexity. It is hoped that this authentic 18'h century collection will provide an enjoyable addition to the harp repertoire, especially for the intermediate player interested in historical performance.'
Dominique Piana, Editor