- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

In the world of musical instruments, the pardessus de viole is a political refugee, a short, stumpy stringed instrument put to the proverbial guillotine during the French Revolution.
Its brief period of popularity 250 years ago captured the attention of Tina Chancey of Arlington, one of perhaps four or five persons in the United States who play the pardessus professionally.
Miss Chancey said hardly any of her friends who are professional musicians have even heard of the pardessus (pronounced PARDT-eh-soo).
"It's the most obscure of the obscure instruments," she said.
The pardessus' history is closely linked to the fickle musical and cultural tastes of 18th-century France. During the era of Louis XIV, Italian violin music was all the rage. But aristocratic Frenchwomen who wanted to play the music had a problem: It was a social faux pas for a lady to rest anything on her bare shoulder, and fashion at the time required a bare shoulder.
In stepped the pardessus. It's similar to a violin but redesigned to be played on one's lap instead of under one's chin. The pardessus also has five strings, rather than four on a violin.
Miss Chancey, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the pardessus, said she was drawn to the instrument initially because of its history, its invention driven by women who were desperate to embrace a new style of music.
She quickly came to appreciate the instrument, though, for its musical qualities. She described its sound as a close mimic of the human voice.
"It was invented for such a silly reason," said Miss Chancey, an Arlington resident. "But it just turned out to be such a poetic, expressive instrument."
Miss Chancey received two grants in the late 1980s from the National Endowment for the Arts to support her work on the instrument. In 1990, she played the pardessus for her first solo recital at Carnegie Hall.
"People were really surprised. It's such a small instrument, but it delivers this really big sound," Miss Chancey said. "The reviewer called it a gamy, throaty sound, which I took as a good thing."
In 1997, she and Catharina Meints, a cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra, recorded six sonatas written for two pardessus by Barthelemy de Caix, an 18th-century French composer.
"It's one of the things I'm proudest of doing," said Miss Meints, whose interest in the pardessus grew out of a general interest in other stringed instruments. "It's some of the most difficult music I've ever played."
The strings are so short on a pardessus, Miss Meints said, that each note requires a more precise finger placement to produce the correct tone.
Miss Meints said she never expected the CD to be a best seller, given the obscurity of the composer and the instrument she and Miss Chancey played on the recording.
"It was a labor of love for both of us, I think," Miss Meints said. "I still think it's just a beautiful record."
The CD sold a few thousand copies, said Linda Feldmann, a spokeswoman for Dorian Recordings, the Troy, N.Y.-based record label that distributes the CD.
Miss Feldmann said many music lovers are looking for unique recordings featuring historic instruments.
"Something like Barthelemy de Caix is not going to go platinum," she said, referring to the designation for record sales totalling a million copies. "But there are people out there who have heard enough Vivaldi. They've heard enough Corelli. They're open to exploration."
Because the pardessus was designed to mimic a violin, very little music was written specifically for it. Most any violin music can be rearranged and adapted for the pardessus, and to Miss Chancey, that's another element of the instrument's appeal.
"It has a pioneering aspect. The music that I record on the pardessus, I'm the first one to have done it. It's very exciting to be one of the first," she said.
Miss Chancey estimated that about 300 instruments survived from that era to today. She owns one of them, made in 1745. She uses the original for recordings and performances, instead of a modern one she had built to specifications.
"There's nothing like an old one," she said. "It just really sounds great."
In addition to solo recitals, Miss Chancey occasionally tries to work the pardessus into the music of Hesperus, a seven-member musical group she helped found that combines classical, Celtic and folk music. But the instrument really works the best in baroque-era music, she said.
"It's like a French cheese. At the right time of day, with the right accompaniment, it's just perfect," she said.


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