ABOUT SAINTE-COLOMBE (ca. 1640-ca. 1700)
French composer and gambist. Sainte-Colombe has until recently been rather a mysterious figure, and even today little is known of him other than that in his time he enjoyed a reputation as an exceptional virtuoso. Possibly he was a certain Jean, sieur de Sainte-Colombe, bourgeois de Paris, who had the two daughters Titon du Tillet attributes to the composer, who counted an organist among his closest friends, who lived in the same parish as many other violists who lived not far from the Louvre and whose name may be found on various documents alongside those of city and court musicians. A pupil of Nicolas Hotman, he was active sometime between 1660 and 1690, but he never held a post in any of the royal institutions.
According to Hubert Le Blanc, in his Défense de la Basse de Viole (1640), Sainte-Colombe was capable through his art of "imitating the most beautiful inflections of the voice," a supreme compliment in that era. Indeed, through ornamentation and the way musical lines are spun out, his compositions are closely related to vocal art, but he also exploits to perfection the possibilities of his instrument and draws on rich harmony.
His principle body of work consists of 67 concerts for two equal viols ( Concerts a deux violes esgales ) and they are something of a revelation: for the first time, we can hear the music behind the immense reputation of its composer, a rare example of the solo viol before Marin Marais. The single manuscript containing sixty-seven of these concert passed through the hands of various collectors without being lost or damaged and was finally discovered by the musicologist Paul Hooreman in the private library of Alfred Cortot at Lausanne around 1966. There is little to indicate the date of the manuscript, except that it contains some pieces by Lully which were written in 1687. It is not known whether it was composed continuously at roughly the same time or whether it is the result of a compilation stretching over several years. Sainte-Colombe did not bother to publish his music; seeking no fame he must have been devoted to his art with the spontaneity of his special genius composing for himself and his entourage, as is suggested by the titles of some of the concerts.