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André Raison (Composer)

Born: before 1650 - possibly in Paris, France
Died: 1719

André Raison was a French Baroque composer and organist. During his lifetime he was one of the most famous French organists and an important influence on French organ music. He published two collections of organ works, in 1688 and 1714. The first contains liturgical music intended for monasteries and a preface with information on contemporary performance practice. The second contains mostly noëls (variations on Christmas carols).


As with many composers of the era, little is known about André Raison's life. He must have been born in the 1640's, possibly in Paris, and studied at the seminary of Nanterre Cathedral. Since about 1665/6 A. Raison served as organist of the royal abbey of Saint-Geneviève in Paris; for a time, around 1714, he also served as organist of the Jacobins church at Rue St. Jacques in Paris.

André Raison was also active as a teacher, and his pupils included Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, a contemporary of J.S. Bach's and another fine composer of keyboard works (he dedicated his first published music collection to his teacher). A. Raison published two collections of organ works, in 1688 and 1714, and died in 1719.


The first collection, Premier livre d'orgue of 1688, consists entirely of liturgical music: five masses (in order of appearance, in the first, second, third, sixth and eighth modes) and an offertory in the fifth mode. The offertory has a subtitle "Vive le Roy des Parisiens" ("Long live the King of Parisians"), referencing Louis XIV's entrance into the city hall on January 30, 1687. The collection features a long preface in which Raison explains that Premier livre d'orgue was composed to assist the musicians of secluded monasteries; for them he provides important instructions concerning style, ornamentation, registration and other aspects of performance practice. He also mentions that, since no pieces of the collection employ plainchant melodies, they can be also used as 15 Magnificat settings. A much quoted passage instructs the performer to carefully observe the tempo of each piece to understand which dance is implied by the texture.

All five masses follow the same scheme:
- Kyrie (5 versets, the third named Christe)
- Gloria (9 versets: Et in terra pax, Benedictimus te, Glorificamus te, Domine, Domine Deus Agnus, Qui tollis, Quoniam tu solus, Tu solus altissimus and Amen)
- Sanctus (2 settings for Sanctus, 1 for Benedictus)
- Elevation
- Agnus Dei (2 settings)
- Deo Gratias

There are only minor variations: the first mass has an alternate version of Kyrie 1, the third provides one for Agnus 2, and the titles of Gloria settings are slightly changed in the 6th tone mass. The individual pieces are short versets in various typical forms of the French organ school: duos, trios, dialogues, fugues, récits, etc.; some are expressly labelled as such, others are not. Somewhat unusual for French music of the era are two ostinato variations - a passacaglia (Christe of the Messe du Deuxième ton) and a chaconne (Christe of the Messe du Sixième ton). Both are much shorter than their German and Italian equivalents. Some 20 years later J.S. Bach used the bass from Raison's passacaglia for his famous Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 (the bass from Trio en chaconne was also possibly used by J.S. Bach for the same piece).

Many of the pieces are notable for their consistent employment of imitative counterpoint: for example, Fugue grave of the third mass is fully imitative, a strict four-voice fugue, and even the passacaglia begins with an imitative passage. Other notable pieces include Gloria: Tu solus altissimus from Messe du Sixième ton, which is a Cromorne-Cornet dialogue alternating between 3/4 and common time, and Autre Kyrie from Messe du Première ton, which is a five-voice piece. Willi Apel describes the overall style thus: "In their melodious, dance-like character these pieces follow Lebègue; others of a more organ-like and ecclesiastic approach are similar to Nivers'."[1] An interesting feature, indicative of Raison's meticulous attention to detail,[2] is the early use of double dot in French music of the period.

Deuxième livre d'orgue, published in 1714, commemorates the Treaty of Utrecht (or possibly the Treaty of Rastatt). To this end, the collection begins with a setting of Da pacem Nomine and a fugue on the same subject. Some more fugues and preludes follow, an offertory, an Ouverture du Septième en d, la, ré, an Allemande grave and a number of noël (French Christmas carols) variations. This collection was only discovered in the 20th century (whereas Premier livre d'orgue surfaced in 1897).

J.S. Bach Connection

The first of André Raison's two published books of organ music (1688), consisting of five masses, includes a Trio en passacaille based on an eightnote subject which corresponds to the first half of the ground bass of J.S. Bach's C minor Passacaglia for organ, BWV 582; the Raison passacaglia forms the 'Christe eleison' in the Messe du deuziesme ton. The resemblance to J.S. Bach's theme was first noted by Alexandre Guilmant and Andre Pirro in their edition of Raison's organ music (Archives des maîtres de l'argue, 1899). However, the Passacaglia shows far stronger evidence of J.S. Bach's study of Dietrich Buxtehude's three chaconnes in C minor, D minor, and E minor, and the suggestion that his theme was based on Raison's can hardly survive an application of Occam's razor, especially since there is no other evidence that J.S. Bach was familiar with A. Raison's music.


Source: Wikipedia Website (based on H. Joseph Butler: "André Raison", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed October 13, 2006); Malcom Boyd, editor: Oxford Composer Companion J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999, Article author: David Humphreys)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Works in J.S. Bach's Library

Messe im 2. Ton

Links to other Sites

André Raison (Wikipedia)
HOASM: André Raison

André Raison: Biography (Sojurn)


Willi Apel: The History of Keyboard Music to 1700, pp. 731-733. Translated by Hans Tischler (Indiana University Press, 1972). Originally published as Geschichte der Orgel- und Klaviermusik bis 1700 by Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel
Archives des Maîtres de l'Orgue, Vol. 2: Raison, André - Livre d'Orgue. Ed. Alexandre Guilmant, André Pirro (A. Durand et fils, 1899)

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