11. Hurel’s 1st Suite for théorbe de pièces

Charles (?) Hurel notated in manuscript form (c.1675) five suites for the théorbe de pièces, which are all of a high quality, characterful, and closer to the style of Robert de Visée than, say, Germain Pinel. One connection between de Visée and Hurel was the famous and influential, Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose work both men arranged for the théorbe.

Hurel belonged to a Parisian family of musical instrument makers. A civic document of 1684 mentions he was an “officer in ordinary to the Academy of Music”, and Du Pradel’s Livre commode de adresses of 1692, describes him as a teacher of the théorbe in Paris. Thanks to François Lesure’s preface to the Editions Minkoff facsimile for the above information.

The first suite in the manuscript consist of two preludes – the second clearly a variation on the first – allemande, gigue, two courantes, sarabande and a gavotte.


Judging from the few preludes (all unbarred) in the manuscript, Hurel liked to spend the first line or so establishing the key tonality, arpeggiating the tonic chord with added decoration, before heading to the dominant, and thereafter exploring a variety of possibilities.

Here’s my interpretation:

Listening back to it, I can say I have played it many different ways before, as befits an unbarred exploratory prelude. Unlike some 17th-century French lute preludes, it does seem focussed as opposed to random, moving forward to related tonalities while keeping the listener guessing. It’s a fine introduction to the suite. And it does feel like a suite, rather than a collection of pieces under the same tonality.


After the upbeat, the first chord contains a dissonant major second resolving to the minor third – indicated by the comma sign adjacent to the tablature letter b. Have a listen to the opening few seconds of this Robert de Visée suite for lute in Dm where another dissonance appears on the first chord:

I’m experimenting with different interpretive approaches these days, from articulating dance rhythms to – as here – a more oratorial approach, even a conversational style where the beat is more fluid, perhaps even unsettling at times. That introductory dissonance leads me to hear this more than a mere dance piece. On another day, I might well play it very differently, which doesn’t worry me at all.


There are two types of French gigue: in quadruple or triple time. This gigue is of the later variety, and although difficult is very enjoyable to play after the searching prelude and emotional allemande.

I have to admit to not knowing exactly what Hurel was indicating with the dash sign beneath the tablature letter d in the third full bar. He uses it a number of times during the suite, and here are a few examples:

  1. Separating two notes, but not the usual separée sign.

2. Over a sustained bass.

3. Simultaneous with a vertical line which indicates the bass and treble are to be played together.

I have checked the main ornament tables of the period, but without finding enlightenment. I found myself giving the note a little emphasis, so as a dynamic decoration rather than a figurative ornament. If anyone else can quote chapter and verse for a description, please do.

Courante 1

A straight-forward and typical rhythmical courante here. Again the horizontal dash – second page, second line, first bar – I’m tempted to claim it an accent mark, perhaps even a rest stroke (!) we might never know.

Just a quick word about the VERY common cross-string lower mordant, seen at the end of the first page, line three. These are ubiquitous in the French lute repertoire. They are executed by dragging the index finger across two strings, with the middle coming in for the first note in the subsequent bar. Worth practising!

Courante 2

I opted for the slow courante here, keeping in mind the following: “the sarabande is actually a slow menuet, and the courante a very slow sarabande” Jean-Baptiste d’Alembert, 1752. For more on the tempo of the courante, see my blog post HERE. Look at how often the second beat of the bar is prominent, akin to how the mazurka was accented in the 19th century.


A delightfully-playful sarabande, not in the “slow and stately” style favoured for all sarabandes in the 20th century. Note the petite reprise indicated by the S with four dots – two either side – four bars from the end. Other notational marks we haven’t discussed include the vibrato – on the letter f at the end of line three and elsewhere – and the sustain-the-bass, also on line three, over the last two bars. The right-hand index finger is sometimes marked á la Renaissance-era tablatures, with a dot below the note – see first bar.


A square-dance of sorts to finish off the suite. The B section breaks up the rhythm here and there, and rhythmical articulation takes precedence over melodic phrasing.

You can hear the whole suit and more without interruption here:

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