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In Search of
Gaspard Le Roux

In Search of Gaspard Le Roux

An Assessment of Current Research


One of the most enigmatic composers of the Grand Siècle, Gaspard Le Roux, published his only volume of music in 1705. Its 88 pages contain seven suites, alongside arrangements for two harpsichords and trios for unspecified instruments. It was published by the composer and sold from Henri Foucault’s shop ‘a L’entrée de la rüe Saint honnoré A la Regle D’Or’.[1] Henry de Baussen engraved the plates, as he had for Lebègue, Campra and Lully, and the music was sold for the sum of ten livres ‘en blanc’ and eleven livres ten sous ‘relié´.[2] It is unknown when the music was written, how many copies found their way into circulation, or how they were received. However, it made its way at least as far as Germany, since Johann Gottfried Walther is known to have copied a portion of its contents.[3] He also mentioned the volume in his Musicalisches Lexicon, citing a bootleg edition that was produced by the Amsterdam publisher Estienne Roger in c.1708. Printed in two volumes, the second contained the realised contreparties and the second harpsichord part of the duet for two harpsichords.[4]  Of both imprints, only three complete copies are known to remain. Two are of the original 1705 edition, which are housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris and the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam purchased the only remaining full copy of the Amsterdam version in 1769. He was an avid harpsichordist who had once been a student of Jacques Duphly and his copy now resides in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. A copy of the second harpsichord part may be found in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.[5]

Le Roux has been the subject of some research over the past century, but despite this, little is known about his life. Although he lived in Paris after the late 1680s, documentation concerning his activities is scant to the extent that it has led several commentators to question whether or not he existed. Suggestions range from his name being a nom de plume for someone of noble birth who wished to hide his ‘crown or title’ to his being a son of the composer Jean Henry D’Anglebert.[6] Harpsichordist Pascal Tuffery discusses the possibility that Le Roux might have been Michel-Richard Delalande, who was chosen by Louis XIV as harpsichord teacher for the daughters of his then chief mistress, Madame de Montespan.[7] French musicologist André Tessier produced two papers in the early 1920s, which were the initial forays into Le Roux’s life and music.[8] The first of these is bibliographical in nature and focusses on the Paris and Amsterdam editions, while the other is more biographical and attempts to put the music into a wider context. A brief entry by Pierre Hardouin in Revue de Musicologie (1956) was followed by Albert Fuller’s 1956 (pub. 1959) edition, which was the first and, until now, only modern edition of the harpsichord suites.[9] After Fuller, Bruce Gustafson provided The New Grove article on Le Roux, and more recently John McKean, as a PhD candidate at Cambridge University, turned his attention to the composer in two published studies: the first considers bibliographical aspects of extant source material while the second looks at contexts and performance traditions relating to the duets.[10]

Trying to establish a chronology for Le Roux’s life is desirable and although more recent studies have been vague in assigning a year of birth, they concur that he died in 1707. This is based on Pierre Hardouin’s research, which reported that a public notary, Toussaint Bellanger, received an inventory of the estate of a Gaspard Leroux on 17 June 1707.[11] Hardouin’s suggestion that the composer’s death occurred shortly before has been widely acknowledged, as the similarity between the names is too close to ignore. However, subsequent attempts to verify his findings have proved unsuccessful as Bellanger’s répertoires contain no references to Gaspard Leroux. This is because Hardouin mistook Bellanger for the notary Alexandre Lefèvre, who was active in ‘Rue Saint-Martin, au coin de la rue Aubri-le-Boucher’ from 1703 to 1706. Between 1707 and 1710 his premises were situated ‘au coin de la rue Neuve-Saint-Merri’, after which he acquired Bellanger’s practice on Rue Saint-Honoré.[12] It is easy to see how this confused Hardouin, but his findings are misleading since the name Lefèvre recorded was Gaspard Roux.[13] Although that might appear circumstantial and of little use, it needs investigating to decide whether Roux’s name was either recorded in error or the product of a yet to be standardised orthography.

Lefèvre’s répertoires show that Roux used his services on several occasions when paid constitutions de rentes by the town of Paris. These were essentially annuities that were developed during the 17th century to bypass the Church’s disapproval of usury and records indicate that they had been paid to Roux regularly since 1704. Before that, Lefèvre’s predecessor Gabriel Raveneau noted that Roux received similar payments dating as far back as 1694. In June 1696 and August 1698 he gave Roux the title ‘le sr’, while another entry in September 1696 contains the additional words ‘bourgeois de Paris’.[14] As a notary Raveneau was rather exceptional since he recorded the qualities and occupations of his customers, and it is possible to discern that social hierarchies were an important aspect of his recordkeeping. The application of ‘le sr’ and ‘bourgeois de Paris’ appears to reflect these distinctions, suggesting Roux had sufficient means to live off his incomes, perhaps as a rentier. Two other entries in Lefèvre’s répertoires, however, indicate that his client and Gaspard Le Roux were not the same. This is because Le Roux also had occasion to use Lefèvre’s services in May 1702 and August 1706 when receiving annuities, a fact Hardouin overlooked.[15] The likelihood that Lefèvre might have made a simple error once is plausible, but to do so several times while being correct on others is less so. It is also unlikely that Raveneau would have made the error at all, given the strict etiquette of his minutes. It must be, therefore, that Gaspard Roux ‘bourgeois de Paris’ was not the harpsichordist and that Hardouin was wrong. Since there are no records of Le Roux receiving annuities after 5 August 1706, which is the last time he is mentioned in any known source, it might be assumed he died soon after.

The vagaries surrounding Le Roux’s date of birth rely heavily on Tessier’s research, which suggests somewhere around 1660. His findings are based on a questionable connection that was provided by Jules Écorcheville in an edition of the c.1660 Kassel Manuscript, where Le Roux’s name is linked to several of its composers.[16] McKean believes an earlier date of birth is probable and suggests that 1650 (or even 1640) is more likely, basing his theory on the relative ages at which composers died during the Grand Siècle.[17] However, it is necessary to be circumspect about this since the method he employed is flawed because it ignores too many variables. McKean, though, follows an intriguing line of thought, which he uses not only to provide further weight to his hypothesis, but also to account for Le Roux’s whereabouts before his first recorded appearance on the Paris scene in 1690. This concerns the discovery of the name Le Roux in a manuscript housed in the Newberry Library, Chicago.[18]

The manuscript is a fair copy of a motet, Lauda Jerusalem Dominum, written by ‘Le Roux presbiter Argentomensis’, which McKean translates as ‘Le Roux, ecclesiastic of Strasbourg’.[19] He finds stylistic similarities with three works attributed to Gaspard that are found in a volume of 61 motets compiled by Sébastien de Brossard. Housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, they form a small part of an extensive collection of books, manuscripts and printed music that Brossard amassed during a 50-year career as a priest, composer and church musician. According to the Bibliothèque nationale catalogue, the motets were copied between 1670 and 1699.[20] Brossard, who is best known as the author of the 1703 Dictionaire de Musique, had been a priest and later Maître de la Chapelle at Strasbourg Cathedral between 1687 and 1698. McKean argues that if all four motets are by the same composer, then it is possible Le Roux had also been employed at Strasbourg, where he and Brossard might have been acquainted. If this were the case, McKean reasons that the Strasbourg link supports his theory regarding Le Roux’s date of birth. Although that would provide a credible explanation of the composer’s whereabouts before he arrived in Paris, McKean confused Argentomensis with Argentoratum, the former being the Latin name of the city of Argentan in Normandy. While that appears to eliminate a geographical connection between Le Roux ‘presbyter’ and Strasbourg, it does not necessarily preclude Gaspard from being the motet’s author. Nor does it rule out the possibility that he composed the works attributed to him by Brossard. Indeed, the first motet seems to affirm Gaspard’s authorship through a unique biographical inscription contained in its top margin. It reads:[21]

Autore. D. Le Roux
C’estoit un celebre maitre de
clavessin et excellent musicien

The attribution, though, is puzzling. The D suggests an abbreviation of Dominus, which might be a substitution for Monsieur, but could also indicate that its composer had an ecclesiastical link and was possibly a priest.[22] That would provide a connection between the Newberry and Brossard manuscripts, and not onlys add weight to McKean’s thesis that Le Roux was responsible for all four motets, but also to his additional supposition that much of the composer’s professional life involved church music.[23] However, the Newberry motet has little in common with those copied by Brossard. A more substantial work, it is scored for five voices and obbligato strings, and its antiphonal homophony and restricted chromaticism is representative of a tradition found in the grands motets of Michel-Richard Delalande and Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Conversely, the composer of the Brossard motets shows a more refined hand and their intimate textures, Italianate influences and richer contrapuntal writing contrast with the Newberry manuscript to the extent that, apart from a common attribution, any other connection is impossible to establish.

Equally puzzling is the ‘maitre de clavessin’ inscription, since the use of the imperfect tense (estoit being an older variant of était) suggests the composer was deceased. That would be true, had the motets been copied after 1706, but such a late date is improbable. The bulk of Brossard’s library was acquired during his Strasbourg years and although eight of the manuscript’s composers lived into the 18th century, the majority of its known works date from before 1700. This leaves four that might have a later provenance: François Couperin’s Venite exultemus Domino was not published until 1726 but exists in two earlier versions of which the principal is found at Versailles and is thought to date from between 1700 and 1706; Nicolas Bernier published Quam dilecta tabernacula tua in 1703; and two works by Jacques-François Lochon, Jam quaero sapere and Thuris odor volet were printed by Christophe Ballard in 1701.[24] Of these, none exactly matches Brossard’s copy: Couperin’s élévation shows significant rhythmic and pitch deviations from its Versailles version, and similar disparities appear in Bernier’s motet. Lochon’s manuscripts also differ from their published forms, with variances in continuo lines, time signatures and tempo directions. They also contain material that is absent from the printed versions, suggesting that the sources Brossard had at his disposal were unrevised copies that might have predated the 1701 publication by a number of years.[25] Moreover, that the Brossard manuscript lacks works that could only have been written after 1698 further indicates an earlier provenance and makes it probable that the motets were copied during his time at Strasbourg.

This serves only to deepen the riddle of the ‘maitre de clavessin’ inscription, which cannot have been written before Le Roux died. However, a plausible explanation is provided through a palaeographical analysis of the volume’s contents. The motets were copied by four different scribes of which one was clearly Brossard since the hand matches other examples we know to be autograph.[26] His contributions are few and his hurried and inaccurate style contrasts greatly with that of the more precise Scribe X, who was responsible not only for Le Roux’s motets, but also more than half the volume’s other works.[27]

Several motets indicate that Brossard and Scribe X were jointly engaged in copying the manuscripts since they either share either a folio, or Scribe X completes work begun by Brossard.[28] An intriguing aspect of their collaboration is that Scribe X omitted attributions for 24 of his 35 contributions, including Le Roux’s motets, which Brossard added at a later point. This was not an error on Scribe X’s part: since he provided composers’ names elsewhere, the remainder were probably anonymous to him. It is reasonable to suggest, therefore, that Brossard’s knowledge might have been similarly impaired and in some cases his attributions appear to have been little other than educated guesses that needed subsequent revision. This is demonstrated by the first of a group of five motets for Saint-Sacrement where the name ‘Clerembaut’ was appended twice in Brossard’s hand.[29] Initially, it was written in a somewhat tentative script, as if Brossard was making a suggestion; the second, however, is larger, more authoritative and placed prominently in the upper margin. The same process was applied to Le Roux’s works, with an initial attribution confirmed at a later point, and it was at this time that the biographical inscription appears to have been added.[30]

These were two of a considerable number of emendations made to the volume and since the holographic style and ink pigmentation contain no variances, they must date from a similar point. In turn, they match entries in a document that Brossard prepared between October 1724 and April 1725, after he began correspondence with the Royal Librarian, l’abbé Jean-Paul Bignon, regarding his desire to donate his ‘cabinet’ to Louis XV.[31] Although Brossard wished his collection to be preserved in one piece after his death, he was approaching 70 and hoped to exchange his canonry at Meaux for a position at the Royal Library. If that were to be impossible, he asked that a small ‘gratification’ in the form of a pension be provided to help support a niece from ‘one of the best and most ancient families in the kingdom’.[32] During the course of their exchange, which was ultimately to include Cardinal de Bissy of Meaux, Brossard was required to provide appetisers in the form of a catalogue, which were forwarded seriatim to Bignon and totalled some 400 pages.[33] Its compilation was a task that entailed cross-referencing and commenting upon theoretical material, operas, sacred and secular vocal music, as well as instrumental works that included a number of Brossard’s own compositions.[34] However impressive the undertaking, the document is not without problems, many of which stem from the unmeticulous haste in which the catalogue seems to have been prepared. Possibly unaware of his collection’s contents or overall size, Brossard made the mistake of preparing pages and categories in advance, then presumably adding entries in whatever order he pulled works from his shelves. The result is haphazard and confused, and includes otherwise empty pages with headings that were probably prepared for items he presumed he owned, while others are so saturated with information that all available space is consumed. Understandably, this led to a number of mistakes: the lute pieces of the mid-17th-century composer Mademoiselle Bocquet, for example, which he copied in the 1670s, were accredited to the much earlier Charles Bocquet, and elsewhere he made attributions for quite tenuous reasons.[35] This is unsurprising: the majority of his catalogue entries required recalling composers whose music he had acquired up to half a century previously and it is probable that his haste resulted in a number of inaccuracies. For these reasons, we must be somewhat circumspect when considering the motets in the collection, especially those accredited to Le Roux. The attribution attached to the third, for example, is found in the form of a short inscription from 1724 that demonstrates a degree of uncertainty on Brossard’s part. Reading ‘Je crois aussi cette piece du Sr Le Roux’, it undermines his authority at that point and provides reason to doubt the authorship of other works for which his collection is the only known source.[36] This does not eliminate the possibility that his Le Roux attributions were correct, but it could be that Brossard had someone other than Gaspard in mind when originally ascribing the works. The harpsichordist connection was not to be made until at least 26 years after the last pieces in his collection were acquired and unless Le Roux had a Strasbourg connection, there is little to suggest that Brossard knew of him until 1698 at the earliest. It is plausible, though, to suggest that he had knowledge of a composer-priest of the same name. Since the composers of the Newberry and Brossard motets were probably different, it is safe to assume that at least two late 17th-century Le Roux musicians flourished in ecclesiastical circles and it is likely there were others. Yolande de Brossard, for example, found seven in Paris between 1599 and 1666, including Jean Le Roux, who is known to have been active as an organist between 1638 and 1642, and documents to be discussed add several others to the list of Gaspard’s Parisian contemporaries, some of whom could have been ordained.[37] It is possible, therefore, that Brossard’s accuracy was compromised by knowledge of two different Le Roux, a composer-priest and a harpsichordist, which became a source of a confusion that resulted in his taking them to be the same.

Because of this possibility, it is important to establish if others might have been either the composer Brossard thought to be Gaspard, or the author of the Newberry motet, and searching for Le Roux in the area surrounding Argentan has revealed two possible candidates. Robert Le Roux was recorded as Master of Music at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Lisieux in c.1695, a position he retained until 1719. He is mentioned a number of times in diocesan minutes, including an entry for 19 September 1704, which describes him as a priest: ‘Mr Robert Leroux, pb, maitre de musique à la Cathédrale’.[38] Another entry dated 17 June 1718 tells us that he was also ‘chapelain de St Marc de Toucques’, while on 23 April 1719 his status is minuted as ‘prieur’ of the same chapel, this time without mentioning his position as a musician.[39] Parish records at Lisieux note the birth of three possible contenders for Robert, who were baptised between 1651 and 1659, and although any one could have become the incumbent musician at the cathedral, eliminating the earlier two might be possible when considering the length of study required for the priesthood.[40] That entailed five years of theology and philosophy before ordination and in Robert’s case, additional studies in music might have occurred. In comparison with Brossard, whose education and later career should have been similar, Robert would have been in his mid twenties before embarking on the musical aspect of his training. As any early role at the cathedral would have involved a period as a subordinate, he might not have become maître de musique until around 1695, when he would have been in his thirties.[41] Assuming the position of prior at Saint-Marc de Touques also corresponds with the Brossard paradigm and indicates that he had retired from service as ‘maitre de musique à la Cathédrale’ by 1719. Like Brossard, his role probably became that of a prebendary canon, a position awarded to senior clergy by providing a stipend without the need for many clerical duties. If this is correct, it is likely that Robert was born in 1659 and relinquished his musical role at the age of 60.[42] It is probable that he remained prior of Saint-Marc de Touques for the remainder of his life and although he could have penned the Brossard motets, there is nothing to suggest that he was the Argentan composer.[43]

Searching for ‘Le Roux presbiter’, though, does reveal a possible candidate for the author of the Newberry manuscript. The registers of the parishes of Saint-Merry and Saint-Germain in Argentan inform us that François Augustin Le Roux was active there as a priest between 1706 and 1710, since he signed his name as vicaire (assistant priest) on a number of occasions.[44] While his activities cannot be verified before November 1706, a few months after Gaspard’s disappearance, it is probable that he was a native of the city since he was recorded as the godfather at a baptism on 8 June 1691.[45] His signature seems less formal than when he underwrites documents as a priest, suggesting someone much younger and he could be François Auguste Le Roux, ‘fils de Louis Le Roux et de Marie Mahot’, who was baptised on 29 August 1674.[46] That corresponds with the age at which his first clerical duties were recorded in Argentan and although it cannot be confirmed that he was a musician, if he were, he might well have been the composer of the Newberry motet.

The suggestion that two other candidates could have been responsible for the motets might appear tenuous, but it provides an example of the difficulties encountered when dealing with secondary sources. There is every possibility that, by alluding to Gaspard, Brossard did Robert a disservice: his duties at Lisieux would certainly have entailed composition and the three Brossard motets might be the only remaining examples of his work. Attributing the Newberry motet to Gaspard might do similar injustices to another, perhaps François Augustin. The picture, however, has to remain incomplete. Brossard’s attributions are likely the result of a confused and careless approach to cataloguing his collection and provide no evidence concerning Gaspard’s time before his arrival in Paris. They do, however, indicate that the name was commonplace enough for it to cast a modicum of doubt on other sources used by Tessier to provide a chronology of the composer’s life. Earlier biographers relied too much on his account and none seems to have viewed the sources within a wider context. They failed to question whether other Le Roux musicians existed and similarly ignored the etiquette that surrounded manners of address in 17th-century France, which usually precluded the use of a first name. Because of this, Tessier’s research might have been compromised. One document, yet to be discussed, contains enough entries for different Le Roux to make the two brief minutes in Lefèvre’s répertoires and the 1705 publication the only concrete evidence of Gaspard’s activities. However, within the context of this overview it seems proper that the sources be examined as if part of the Le Roux narrative.

The earliest is found in a March 1690 entry in Le Mercure Galant, a monthly publication that was considered an authority on culture among Paris’s modish elite. It reported that ‘Mr Le Roux’ wrote a thoroughbass for a Marc Pérachon translation of the opening of Veni Creator, for which the Abbé Claude Chastelain wrote a melody.

Nous sommes dans un temps tout saint. Ainsi, Madame, je croy vous faire plaisir de vous envoyer au lieu de Chanson nouvelle, le commencement de Veni Creator, traduit par Mr Pérachon, & mis en Musique par Mr l’Abbé Chastelain, Chanoine de l’Eglise de Paris. La Basse-continuë est de Mr Le Roux, Maitre de Musique. Mars 1690. B[47]

Earlier authors have used this to suggest that Le Roux was, by that time, well established in Paris. Fuller takes the ‘Maitre de Musique’ epithet literally, while McKean uses it to provide buoyancy for his church musician theory, suggesting that: ‘he must have been affiliated with a relatively minor church—possibly one located in the Parisian suburbs’.[48] Gustafson is a little more down to earth, preferring ‘music teacher’, which is the most likely translation.[49] It is also one that fits better with the perfunctory manner in which Le Roux is mentioned. It reads as an afterthought, with an emphasis on the celebrated Pérachon and Chastelain. While McKean suggests this was more a collaboration between the three, Le Roux’s contribution was at best piecemeal and it might be regarded as unusual that an established musician, let alone a ‘Maitre’, be asked or expected to undertake a task more suited to a newcomer to the profession.

Gustafson’s reading of ‘Maitre’ needs a little more exploration, since the appearance of Le Roux’s name in Nicolas de Blégny’s Le Livre commode contenant les adresses de la ville de Paris … pour l’année 1692, seems to confirm that his activities were those of a teacher. Published under the pseudonym of Abraham du Pradel, presumably to draw attention away from a relentless stream of self-promotion, Le Livre commode was a controversial almanac of names and addresses that were organised according to profession. The contention was due not only to the author’s supposedly nefarious character and the exploitative manner in which entries were made but also because names and addresses had been published without consent.[50] The Le Roux entry appears next to the likes of François Couprin [sic], Jean Henry D’Anglebert and Nicolas Lebègue under the heading ‘Maîtres pour l’Orgue & Maîtres pour le Clavecin’, which is preceded only by the one reserved for the king’s musicians.[51] Although addresses are provided for the others, Le Roux’s is followed by a lacuna.[52] His place alongside better-known musicians might at first seem auspicious, but in no way does it suggest a level of prominence, and while Fuller et al took the entry as proof that Le Roux had achieved a degree of fame, they failed to examine the book in the light of its other contents. Blégny does not recognise the professions of anyone connected with the church, and of the musicians who made it into his lists, none appears to be grouped in any perceivable hierarchy other than gender. Exception is made for those in the employment of the king, since those even loosely connected with affairs of state find prominence, but the remainder are haphazardly categorised as ‘Maîtres’ and ‘Maîtreßes’. Thus, while Le Roux appears alongside Dandrieu and Nivers, other renowned organists such as André Raison and Médéric Corneille (respectively incumbents at Sainte-Geneviève de Nanterre and Notre Dame Cathedral) are relegated to what seems to be the less prestigious category of ‘Autres Maîtres pour le Clavecin’. Blégny’s lists, therefore, appear to be little more than their headings suggest and it is possible that the reasons for which Le Roux was included in Le Livre commode were not those earlier biographers cited, but rather because of his achievements as a teacher. This argument finds weight in not only the 1690 Le Mercure Galant reference, but also in a passing comment made by Pérachon in 1696 when, on recalling their earlier collaboration, he referred to Le Roux as the ‘fameux Maître de Musique’.[53]

Only two other pertinent sources mention the name Le Roux, of which the earliest is the 1695 Rolle des sommes qui seront payées par les Organistes et Professeurs de Clavecin de la Ville et fauxbourgs.[54] This is a collation of fascicles that records the taxes paid by ‘organists and teachers of the harpsichord’, where a Le Roux is found in the Premiere Classe, for which a levy of fifteen livres was paid.[55] In total the name is recorded five times, two of which are identifiable as N[icolas] and a dancing master M[ichel].[56] Le Roux’s name also appears in another part of the document that was reserved for ‘compagnons’ of a guild of dancing masters and instrumentalists, the Confrérie de Saint-Julien-des-Ménestriers, a declining institution that had served as an association of Parisian musicians for several centuries. As a companion, a further payment of ten livres was due, although it was recorded in the margin that he was exempt from the fee on account of the fifteen livres paid in taxes.[57]

A final source, dated 9 April 1705, consists of an entry in the Registre des ouvrages manuscrits ou imprimés présentés à Mgr le chancelier pour obtenir des privilèges and is the only one that we can be certain refers to Gaspard. It tells us that on 5 April Le Roux had petitioned for a Privilège du Roy, which was to provide him with the right to publish and sell his music. Usually, this was a drawn-out process of censorship that involved several stages but in Le Roux’s case the manuscript’s content seems to have expedited the process, since the privilege was granted within four days ‘sans examen particulier’.[58] This defended his rights throughout the kingdom against ‘tous Graveurs, libraires et imprimeurs de contrefaire les dits ouvrages a peine de 3000₶.’[59] In itself, the document is perhaps the most revealing in the search for Gaspard Le Roux: by allowing sales throughout the kingdom and permission to publish further works for a period of ten years, it hints that Le Roux intended to produce more and acts as a poignant reminder that he died before this could be accomplished.[60]

The overall lack of documentation is disappointing since the Le Roux of the pièces is one of the more charming composers of his generation. Although interest in him has grown since Fuller’s edition, he remains overshadowed by those contemporaries whose music and personal histories we know better. He is probably not alone on this front and there are no doubts that others of equal merit are waiting to be discovered. Perhaps their stories will be as elusive, but despite the efforts of many, little remains that is of specific value when trying to put the composer into a personal context.

It might appear unfair that McKean has borne the brunt of criticism in this assessment of current research, but his two studies are the latest and most expansive of those that pay attention to the composer. Yet despite McKean’s valiant attempts to plug the gaps, Le Roux can only be defined through his single publication and, for now, the rest must remain conjecture. Evidence suggests that he was fresh in the face on first arriving in Paris and while it is possible that he quickly became established within the city’s musical environment, there is little to suggest that his status among his peers was as high as we might prefer to believe. His publication has no dedication, so it is to be assumed he had no patron and, like today’s jobbing musicians, he probably acted as a teacher, accompanist and performer. His accomplishments presumably earned him a reputation that, according to Le Roux himself, resulted in his manuscripts circulating in sufficient quantities to justify the issue of a printed edition.[61] When thinking of the format and potential of the Pieces de Clavessin, it must be assumed that he was intelligent enough to maximise his market: the suites are written in a pleasing French style that is, for the most part, neither too simple nor too virtuoso and while there was nothing new in the idea that harpsichord pieces could be played in a variety of ensemble situations, the format Le Roux adopted should have made the volume attractive to many.[62] We are also provided with a glimpse into Le Roux’s professional life, since the pièces pedagogic potential is highly valuable, indicating a teacher of some ability. Indeed, its demonstrational qualities are such that its popularity must have been assured.

My supposition that he was younger when he moved to Paris developed when considering the publication’s merits, which resulted in a belief that only a younger and more enterprising musician could have conceived such a wide-reaching format. I was also intrigued by McKean dispatching Le Roux after a life that ended in a well-earned Parisian dotage. However, his application for rights to publish his music for a period of ten years suggests a younger man with plans for the future and research into his peers suggest that, among musicians, it was de rigueur to go to print as soon as was possible. Publications provided good advertising, which must have outweighed any financial consequences associated with their production and this is demonstrated when examining the ages at which composers published for the first time. Of those mentioned in McKean’s timeline, only three were over 42 and they were of an older, possibly more conservative generation that thrived long before printed material became abundant.[63] If we ignore François Couperin’s youthful 21 years when the organ masses were published, it becomes apparent that the average age at which composers released editions of their music was around 36; if we discount the older composers altogether, this becomes 28. Combining McKean’s not unreasonable logic with Tessier’s research, it could be that Le Roux was born as late as 1670; the chronology works: a young musician arrives in Paris from the provinces to begin a professional career, publishes music using a well-conceived plan, but frustratingly disappears from the scene just as his future looks assured.

Sadly, we must remain frustrated until the emergence of new source material allows us to fill the gaps in a life that was probably cut off in its prime and which, for now, has to remain open-ended.


[1] Le Roux (1705). Since Le Roux applied for the Privilège du Roy, it is certain he bore the costs of engraving and printing, and Foucault’s only involvement was in providing a premises for sales. Unusually, the title page makes no mention that the music could be purchased ‘chez l’auteur’. The cost of obtaining a privilege for an octavo imprint was 60 livres per edition for up to 1,500 copies. See: Brenet (1907), 411.
[2] ‘En blanc’ signifies that the music was sold as single sheets. The ‘relié’ price was handwritten on the title page of the BnF copy and indicates the price for a bound copy.
[3] D-B Mus. ms. Bach P 801.
[4] Walther (1732), 189 and 535; Lesure (1969), 55-88. Subsequent to Walther, Le Roux is mentioned in a number of late 17th- and 18th-century German lexicons, each of which appear to rely on Walther for their information. Roger’s edition was to remain available until c.1744.
[5] F-Pn VM7-1858; US-Wc M22.L6; GB-Cfm MU.MS.360; D-B Slg. Thulemeier, 258,1: this was previously housed in the Gymnase de Joachimsthal in Berlin and was thought to have been lost during World War II.
[6] Rousset (1995).
[7] Tuffery (2016), 26-9.
[8] Tessier (1922), 168-74; (1924), 230-246.
[9] Hardouin (1956), 62-67; Le Roux, ed. Fuller (1959).
[10] McKean (2011a) and (2011b).
[11] Hardouin (1956), 62-67.
[12] Limon (1992), 371 and 331.
[13] F-Pan MC / ET / CXXI, fol. 175v., 17 June 1707.
[14] Ibid., 124. Raveneau’s répertoires may be found in F-Pan MC / ET / CXXI / 192, 194, 196, 202, 209: 1st February 1694, 29 November 1694, 14 June 1696, 7 September 1696, 5 July 1697, 12 August 1698. Lefèvre’s are found in F-Pan MC / RE / CXIII / 6: 25 April, 1704, 22 February 1706 and 8 February 1707. No payment seems to have been made in 1705. Entries in Bellanger’s répertoires may be found in F-Pan MC / RE / CCIII / 4, fos. 315v.-330r.
[15] F-Pan MC / RE / CXIII / 6: 8 May 1702 and 5 August 1706.
[16] D-Kl Ms. Mus. Fol. 61; Écorcheville (1906), 5.
[17] McKean (2011b), 38.
[18] US-Cn MS 5105; the library catalogue dates the manuscript as 1690 to 1707, relying on the dates during which Le Roux is thought to have flourished.
[19] Psalmum illum centesimum quadragesimum septimum musice composuit Le Roux presbiter Argentomensis; McKean (2011b), 7.
[20] F-Pn VM1-1175. The motets attributed to Le Roux are: Thuris odor volet ad auras (fol. 161r.), Beati qui habitant in domo (fol. 167v.) and Alma redemptoris mater (fol. 169v.). Although Brossard added page numbers, there are several non-sequiturs in their arrangement and it is more accurate to cite folios. They have been added to each recto side and date from more modern times. The page numbers appear as 337, 348 and 352.
[21] Author. D. Le Roux. This was a famous master of the harpsichord and excellent musician [This m]otet is entirely different from the one by Danielis on the same text.
[22] ‘Dominus’ is used quite often in contemporary manuscripts in place of Monsieur; e.g. F-Pn VM1-1178: ‘Autore D. Homet discipulo D. Bernier’; VM1-945, 1: ‘Communicavit D. Hartwich Zisich scripsit S B an. 1695’; VM1-861, ‘Ex bibl. Dni Ballard’.
[23] McKean (2011b), 9.
[24] F-Pc RES 1680; F-V MS Musicale 59; Bernier (1703), 203; Lochon (1701), 18 and 44. There are no significant differences between the Couperin manuscripts, suggesting that they were copied from the same source.
[25] Cf. F-Pn VM1-1175 fos. 3r. and 8r.; Lochon (1701), 22-23 and 48.
[26] For example, F-Pn VM7-1477 (4), Sonata 4.a.
[27] Brossard contributed four motets; Scribe X, 35; Scribe Y, one; Scribe Z, 21.
[28] For example, Giovanni Vincentini’s Paravit in mensa sua (fol. 129r.) was completed by Scribe X.
[29] This is the only known source of these motets and they have been catalogued as C.164-7. If they are by Clérambault, they represent some of his earliest pieces. None appears in his five published books of motets (c.1742-60).
[30] Something similar occurred with Bernier’s motets, on 214r. and 225v.
[31] The circumstances surrounding the donation and its related correspondence may be found in Lebeau (1950), 77-93.
[32] Ibid., 92: ‘Au reste ce n’est pas pour moy principallement que je demande cette gratification … j’ay une niece avec moy, qui est (j’ose bien le dire) d’une des meîlleures et des plus anciennes familles du Royaume’. The letter, dated 10 June 1725, was the final one in the correspondence concerning his collection. It was addressed to Bissy and describes the work undertaken, as well as the ‘gratification’ required for his troubles.
[33] The finished document also includes a detailed index and is 678 pages in length.
[34] F-Pn Rés VM8-20; the number of pages devoted to Brossard’s compositions amounts to four sides that contain fifty-four entries.
[35] F-Pn Rés VM8-20, 379; Brossard incorrectly assumed, for example, that his predecessor at Meaux Cathedral, André Pechon, composed several anonymous works in another volume of Latin sacred music, F-Pn VMA MS-571. See also Bennett (2009), 5.
[36] VM1-1175, fol. 169v.: ’I also believe this piece [to be by] Mr Le Roux.’
[37] Brossard (1965), 190.
[38] Priel (1891-5), 596.
[39] Ibid. Entries concerning Le Roux are found on pages 161 (where he is called Raoult Leroux, 1695), 232 (1697), 302 (1698), 461 (1701), 599 (1704), 724 (1708), 384 (1718) and 421 (1719). Saint-Marc de Touques – also known as Léproserie de Saint-Marc – was a hospital chapel at the hamlet of Hutrel near Touques.
[40] Digitised copies of the records are found in the Archives départementales du Calvados: Saint-Jacques, 8 August 1651, son of Robert Le Roux and Noëlle Du Bois (scan 45); Saint-Germain, 4 April 1655, son of Gabriel Le Roux and Jeanne Paris (scan 369); Saint-Germain, 26 February 1659, son of Pierre Le Roux and Anne Houplin [?] (scan 412). I am indebted to François-Pierre Goy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de Musique for his more than valuable aid in finding these references.
[41] Brossard, for example, was 32 when first appointed at Strasbourg and older when assuming the position of ‘Maître de la Chapelle’. Although an autodidact, his years in Paris involved considerable studies in music. His appointment as chanteur and choirmaster at Strasbourg occurred after 1687. Taking into account his time in Paris, there is no reason to doubt that the chronological events of his career would have differed much from Le Roux’s. Cf. Duron (1995), xi-xii.
[42] Brossard relinquished his role as Maître de Chapelle at Meaux at the same age.
[43] It could be that Brossard and Robert Le Roux had been acquainted during their youth, which might have been partly responsible for Brossard’s confusion so many years later. A native of Dompierre, Normandy, Brossard had been a student at the Jesuit Collège du Mont in Caen before continuing his studies at the university, taking minor holy orders in 1675 and becoming a sub-deacon the following year. Because of Caen’s close proximity to Lisieux, it would have been a natural choice for Le Roux’s studies. If this were the case, their times would certainly have overlapped.
[44] These records have been digitised and are held by the Archives départementales de l’Orne. Le Roux signs records at Saint-Martin from 23 November 1706 (Argentan, Saint-Martin, BMS 1699-1707, scan 155) to 16 February 1710 (Argentan, Saint-Martin, BMS 1708-1715, scan 32). From 23 February to 16 November 1710, he was active at Saint-Germain (Argentan, Saint-Germain, BMS 1708-1712, scans 89 and 102). My thanks go again to François-Pierre Goy for his valuable skills in finding these references.
[45] Saint-Germain, BMS 1685-1691, scan 214.
[46] Saint-Germain, BMS 1674-1677, scan 16. François must have been a family nomenclature, since his parents baptised another child of the same name in April 1678 (BMS 1678-1684, scan 10).
[47] Le Mercure Galant (March 1690): ‘We are in a very sacred time. Therefore, Madame, I believe you will be pleased to receive, in place of a new chanson, the beginning of Veni Creator, translated by Mr Pérachon and set to music by the Abbé Chastelain, canon of the Church of Paris. The basso continuo is by Mr Le Roux, Master of Music. March 1690. B’. It is possible that the author of the article is Bertrand de Bacilly (1625-1690), who was an active singing teacher and composer.
[48] McKean (2011b), 7.
[49] Fuller (1959), v; McKean (2011b), 7; Gustafson, Grove Music Online.
[50] In an almost Balzacian parody, Blégny’s refers to himself a total of five times in the space of just 18 pages (40-57), often using superlative language. One other entry, refers his mother in similar terms (48): ‘Mademoiselle de Blegny Directrice honoraire & perpetuelle de la Communauté des Jurées Sages Femmes de Paris, qui pratique seulement pour les personnes de la premiere qualité & pour celles qui luy sont confiées, demeure chez M. son Fils Apoticaire du Roy, rue de Guenegaud, premiere porte à droite.’ (‘Mademoiselle de Blegny, Honorary and Perpetual Director of the Community of the Midwives of Paris, who practices only for persons of the highest quality and for those entrusted to her, resides with her son, Apothecary to the King, rue de Guénégaud, first door to the right.’) A full and humorous account of the circumstances surrounding the publication of Le Livre commode may be found in: Blégny, ed. Fournier (1878), xxxii-lx.
[51] Blégny (1692), 61. Those listed are Nicolas Lebègue, Jacques Thomelin, François Couperin, Pierre Dandrieu, Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Jean Henry D’Anglebert, [François] Martin, Le Roux, Jean-Baptiste Buterne, Claude Rachel de Montalan, Antoine Houssu (l’aîné), Edmé Houssu (le cadet), Gabriel Garnier and Michel Richard Delalande. The considerably slimmer 1691 edition of Le Livre commode does not mention Le Roux.
[52] McKean (2011, 9) suggests that the lack of an address is typical for the Livre commode, but the opposite appears to be the case for musicians, with only eight unassigned. They are: Le Roux; violist, Sainte-Colombe; the Royal Chapel choirmasters, Guillaume Minoret and Nicolas Goupillet; theorbists, François Pinel and Lavaux; lutenist, Pierre Dubut; and a singing teacher, Chevalier. The lack of address for Le Roux is somewhat vexing, since this prevents any useful search through notary records, which might provide more substantial biographical information.
[53] Pérachon (1696), 11.
[54] F-Pan Z / 1h / 657. The document consists of several fascicles, each corresponding to a particular category of musicians and dancing masters.
[55] Ibid., fasc. 1.
[56] Ibid., fasc. 11, N[icolas] Le Roux is marked ‘mis a la deuxe’ and—in the margin—‘décedé’; fasc. 9, ‘a payé à Mr Moreau quartenier déchargé’.
[57] Ibid., fasc. 21. The organist reference appears to have been a generic category that was applied to all the list’s subjects. Membership of the confrérie was a source of contention for many organists and harpsichords, which resulted in the institution bringing a suit against several of those mentioned in Blégny’s almanac (Couperin, Lebègue, Nivers, Buterne and Houssu) in an attempt to keep them under its jurisdiction. A full account of the litigation, which was not solved until 1707, may be found in Vidal (1878), 65-68.
[58] F-Pn, Français 21940, fol. 40r. ‘Register of manuscripts or printed works presented to My Lord Chancellor in order to obtain privileges’: ‘388 / / Pieces de clavecin / p[ou]r une longue broch[ure]. / Comp[osées]. et pres[entées]. / par le Sr Le Roux / ce dim[anche]. 5e avril / 1705 / p[ou]r un p[rivilège]. g[éneral]. / distr[ibué]. à [blank] / Ledit jour / /  A[p]pr[ouvé] s[éance] du 8 avril / 1705 Bon sans examen / particulier / /  Privilege General / au Sr Le Roux / p[ou]r dix ans / Le jeudy 9 avril / 1705.’ (‘388 / /  Pièces de clavecin for a brochure in oblong format. Composed and presented by Mr Le Roux this Sunday 5 April 1705 for a general privilege; distributed to [blank, probably the person who had to examine it] on the same day  / /  Approved in the session of 8 April 1705 Good without particular examination / /  General privilege to Mr Le Roux for ten years on Thursday 9 April 1705.’)
[59] Le Roux (1705), ’Extrait du Privilege du Roy’: ‘… against all engravers, booksellers and printers to counterfeit the said works on pain of a 3,000 livre fine’. The ‘Extrait du Privilege du Roy’ provides a date of 21 April, which was probably the date on which permission was granted for its sale.
[60] Falk (1906, 75) describes the process of obtaining a privilège: the manuscript was presented to the office of the Chancellor in its entirety and the name of a censor provided; on approval, it was given a seal by the king’s secretary that permitted its printing; the manuscript was left with the Chancellor to be checked against the printed version to ensure that no changes had been made out of ‘malice’; on printing the book, the author or bookseller was then obliged to provide a copy ‘en blanc’ for the library of the chancellor before sales could proceed.
[61] Le Roux (1705), ii.
[62] See, for example, Jacquet de la Guerre (1707). The title page clearly states ‘Qui peuvent se Joüer sur le Viollon’. While this is a slightly later publication than Le Roux’s volume, it nevertheless points to a manner of performance that was not restricted to the harpsichord alone. Other instrumental composers also saw the potential of publishing their music in different formats for en concert performance, such as the guitarist Robert de Visée, who provided alternative treble and bass versions of some of the works in his guitar books of 1682 and 1686, and the lutenist Jacques Gallot, who published instrumental parts for those wishing to play pieces from his lute book of c.1683.
[63] McKean (2011b), 38.