b Besançon c 1567- d after 1617
Burgundian lutenist and composer. He received the education of a gentleman at the University
of Dôle, taking the double degree of Licentiate and Doctor of Laws in 1587. He may then have
spent ten or more years in Rome, studying medicine and learning the lute. In 1597 he seems
to have been in Hesse, where he apparently taught the lute. In 1602 he returned to Besançon
to marry Péronne Jacquot, and then went to Cologne, where he published his Thesaurus harmonicus
, a collection of lute music, at his own expense.
The editing in 1604 of the
Mercurii gallobelgici, a collection of historical documents and one of a series of
collected European treaties and legal documents of the late 16th century brought out by Grevenbuch
,his publisher, required the skills of a lawyer, and Besard may have undertaken it to pay
for publication of the Thesaurus. In 1605 legal arrangements carried out in Besançon
to assure his wife´s marriage portion hint that he may have been somewhat spendthrift.
In 1613 he inherited letters of nobility from his father. Between 1604 and 1617 Besard arrived
in Augsburg, possibly to live with or use the influence of his friend Hainhofer, a noted diplomat.
He apparently continued his professions of law and medicine, also teaching the lute. Here
he published in 1617 Novus partus (a second collection of lute music) and had printed
the Isagoge in artem testitudinariam, a German translation of the second
edition of his lute manual. In the same year he issued the Antrum philosophicum, a
large, alphabetically arranged dictionary of known diseases and their cures (not, as some
have assumed, of alchemy). Besard´s place and date of death are unknown.
harmonicus is a major encyclopedic collection of 403 compositions in French tablature,
arranged in ten books according to category: a manual on lute playing,De modo, is also
part of the Thesaurus. Major types include most of the instrumental forms of the time:
preludes, fantasias, psalm settings, chanson and madrigal intabulations, and a high proportion
of dances ( e.g passamezzos, galliards, allemandes, courantes, branles). The music
is for solo lute, or lute and voice (three pieces are for lute ensemble), and represents 21 different
composers, the most important being Lorenzini (with whom Besard claimed to have studied),
John Dowland, Vincenzo Galilei, Alfonso Ferrabosco (I), and Valentin Bakfark. Only 10% of
the works are directly ascribed to Besard himself, and there seems to be little doubt that
he was more of an encyclopedist than a composer.
The Thesaurus was printed
in movable type, and its immense influence is proven by the numerous copies of individual
compositions that appear in later manuscripts and printed collections.
, while not nearly so extensive a collection as theThesaurus, is of interest on several
counts. It is one of the last books to have been printed from woodblock in Germany; and its
59 compositions (also in French tablature) are divided into three sections, the first having
12 pieces for three differently tuned concerting lutes and two other instruments or voices,
the second containing 12 pieces for two concerting lutes, and the third consisting of 35 compositions
for solo lute.
Apart from Besard, who claims 35 of the works in the entire collection,
11 other composers are included, among them Michel Angelo Galilei, La Barre, La Grotte, Pietro
Paolo Melli and Mesangeau. Besard also appended to the Novus partus a second edition
of his lute manual, entitled Ad artem testudinis. The similarities and differences
between the contents of theThesaurus and those of the Novus partus reveal the
differences in musical tastes in 1603 and 1617, particularly towards concerted music.
collections reflect the general state of early Baroque instrumental music and both are fundamentally
similar in style and content. The most pervasive compositional principle is that of variation,
whether it appears in sets of variations on a duplex cantus firmus, in the doubles
of dances, or in other applications of diminutions. Other characteristics include idiomatic
instrumental techiniques (e.g. style brisé, octave equivalence), little true counterpoint
(except between outer voices), strong rythmic accents and rythmic experimentation, simultaneous
false relations and other experimental dissonances, and the equal importance of major-minor
keys and modes. The chief differences between the collections lie in the absence of vocal
intabulations in the Novus partus, its emphasis on the expanded lower range of the
"theorbed" lute, and the astounding increase in the number of concerted works.
is attractive, though not great music, in both volumes. Nevertheless, the collections are
interesting today chiefly because of their sheer size, catholicity of taste, influence and
Besard´s two versions of his lute instructions differ little fundamentally
, although the second (Ad artem) treats right-hand techniques more extensively. Like
many of the other Renaissance and Baroque manuals they concentrate on fingering technique,
much of it on a highly sophisticated level. Besard also discussed the proper realization
of the polyphonic sense of the music, preferred clarity to speed, emphasized good practice
habits, and described proper posture. The significance of De modo is indicated by its
appearence in English translation in Robert Dowland´s Varietie of Lute Lessons(1610)
and in other manuscripts (e.g. Hainhofer´s). In fact, Besard´s manuals are the most extensive
instructions to appear in Europe in the first two decades of the 17th century. and they are
the only ones to appear in England between Thomas Robinson´s Schoole of Musicke (1603)
and Richard Mathew´s The Lutes Apology for her Excellency (1652).