Jean-Baptiste Besard

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The editing in 1604 of the Mercurii gallobelgici, a collection of historical documents and one of a series of collected European treaties and legal documents of the late 16th century brought out by Grevenbuch ,his publisher, required the skills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.

TheThesaurus 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.
TheNovus partus , 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.

Both 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.

There 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 historical context.
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).

Julia Sutton
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