Denis Gaultier

Denis Gaultier


• 1603 1672


Denis Gaultier was a leading lute player in Paris in the early Baroque era, and also a notable composer for the instrument.

There were many lutenists with the name Gaultier, or close variants of it. Denis was cousin to Ennemond Gaultier, but related to none of the other prominent Gaultiers. Ennemond was born at Nèves, near Villette in 1575, and died near there in 1651. Ennemond is often referred to as le vieux Gaultier or Gaultier de Lyons, while Denis is called Gaultier le jeune or Gaultier de Paris, so that the two can be distinguished. Even so, during the time that their lives overlapped there is considerable confusion. Ennemond obtained a high appointment around 1600 and became a famous court lutenist and teacher. As the younger Denis quickly became famous, writers of the time did not usually make the effort to identify which they are talking about, so misattributions of their music and events in their lives persist up until the time that Ennemond left Paris to retire in 1631. Things are not made easier for the historian by the fact that both men were in the habit of signing the works with just their surname.

Denis was a pupil of Charles Racquet. He came to Paris as a young man and quickly became well known. He did not seek a court appointment and appears to have made a living as a freelance player and composer and as a teacher. Between Denis and Ennemond, the Gaultiers and a number of the important lute players of the time, including Dufaut, Dubuts, and Charles Mouton, shared mutual admiration.

Denis published two important volumes which, according to their title pages contained only his own music. (These are La rhétorique des dieux and Pièces de luth sur trois differens modes nouveaux.) However, other publications contain some of the compositions in these books, but attribute them to Ennemond. Denis began Livre de tablature, but did not live to complete it. In it, an approximately equal number of pieces are attributed singly either to Denis or Ennemond, but these might be the work of Denis's pupil Montarcis, who completed and edited the book for publication.

Pièces de luth and Livre de tablature both begin with a brief instruction manual for playing the lute, of some value in determining playing styles of the period. La rhétorique is the most substantial of Gaultier's publications, with compositions grouped into the 12 classical Greek modes.

Ennemond and Denis participated in the elevation of the lute from an instrument used mainly to accompany songs to a solo instrument. Denis was one of the developers of the style brisé of playing, which created the illusion that it was polyphonic. He and Ennemond evidently invented the particularly French form called the tombeau, a slowish piece in allemande rhythm written as a memorial to a deceased person.