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ClassicsOnline Home » DEVIENNE, F.: Clarinet Sonatas (Wonkak Kim, Eun-Hye Grace Choi)
François Devienne composed an impressive output of several hundred works for wind instruments. Appointed as the first professor of flute at the Paris Conservatoire by Napoleon, he was also the author of a celebrated flute Méthode. Adapted from his own sonatas for flute, these clarinet sonatas feature highly imaginative melodies as well as virtuosic displays. Unsurpassed for their charms and elegance, Devienne’s Clarinet Sonatas are among the few remarkable works that exist for the instrument from the late eighteenth century.
François Devienne (1759–1803)
François Devienne, born in 1759 in Joinville, France, the fourteenth and last child of a saddle dealer, was a child prodigy. Writing a Mass at the age of ten, Devienne showed not only unusual musical facility as a child, but an extraordinary degree of diligence as well. Emile Humbolt’s account of the young pupil is particularly illuminating: “Quite unlike other children, who have to be promised money if you want to get them to do anything, Devienne would leave off work only when his brother had given him a few écus, on condition that he would go and enjoy himself.” Quickly becoming highly proficient on the flute and bassoon, Devienne joined the Concerts de la Loge Olympique in 1784 and in 1788 the musicians of the Swiss Guard. He also became the principal bassoonist of the Théâtre de Monsieur (later the Théâtre Feydeau), retaining this position until 1801. While active as a woodwind virtuoso, Devienne wrote extensively in many genres, including a number of successful operas. Among these is the opéra comique Les visitandines (1792), which brought him much fame.
From 1791 Devienne held the rank of sergeant in the Garde Nationale and taught in its Institut National de Musique. In 1795 he became a charter faculty member of the Paris Conservatoire and was appointed its first flute professor and administrator. During his tenure as a Conservatoire professor, he wrote his celebrated Méthode de Flûte Théorique et Pratique (1793). His flute school brought a significant advance not only to the instrument, but also to the quality of eighteenth-century French wind music. Until his death at a sanatorium in Charenton near Paris in 1803, he was highly prolific, producing 25 quartets, 46 trios, and 147 duos in all styles, including 67 sonatas.
Although Devienne’s principal instruments were the flute and the bassoon, he became familiar with the clarinet early in his career. When he performed his first Symphonie concertante (1787) for flute, clarinet, and bassoon with Hugot and Lefebvre, the clarinet, then a relatively novel instrument, had already undergone considerable technical development and had the facility for considerable agility. Fascinated by the romanticism of his time, Devienne saw ample opportunities for expression through the clarinet’s impressive spectrum of range and dynamic. His sonatas for the clarinet, originally entitled Sonates pour clarinette et accompagnement de basse, are adapted from his own flute sonatas, Opp. 58 and 68. The first edition of these sonatas only consists of a two-staff score for a virtuosic solo part for clarinet in C over a highly compressed and simplified bass line. As many have argued, however, Devienne’s classical style, following the spirit of Mozart and Haydn, does not suggest a baroque realisation of these unfigured continuo lines. Instead, the editions used in this recording constantly feature ornate melodic lines given to the keyboard, according to the style of the period. With the exception of Sonata No. 1 in C major, the sonatas are transposed in order to retain the fingering for Devienne’s clarinet in C when playing a modern clarinet in B flat.
The clarinet sonatas display Devienne’s great ease of writing as well as his uniquely creative melodic lines. They encompass all forms and styles available in his time, ranging from the Baroque sonata to theme and variations. Along with works by his contemporaries Franz Anton Hoffmeister and Johann Baptist Vanhal, these selections represent the unrivaled charm and elegance of classical sonatas for the clarinet.
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