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ClassicsOnline Home » BOISMORTIER: 6 Concertos for Five Flutes, Op. 15
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 -1755)
Concerti for Five Flutes, Op. 15 (Paris. 1727)
In the history of music, Joseph Bodin de
Boismortier, who was born at Thionville on 23rd December 1689 and died at
Roissy-en-Brie on 28th October 1755, is exceptional in various ways. He was
born into a modest family, with a father, a former soldier, who had settled in
Thionville as a confectioner. In 1713 Boismortier left Lorraine for Perpignan
and established himself there as collector for the Royal Tobacco Excise Office,
a calling remote enough from any musical employment. He remained nearly ten
years in this position and has left us no trace of any musical activity, or at
least no tangible evidence.
In leafing through the collections of
serious and drinking songs published by Ballard at the beginning of the
eighteenth century, we find, in October 1721, a drinking-song by a certain
"M. Boismortier from Metz": Lorsque je bois avec Aminthe (When
I drink with Amintas). The duet Laissons là dormir Grégoire (Let us
sleep there, Grégoire) is also in the collections, but in 1724 Boismortier's
musical activity in Perpignan was sufficient then for him to have been able to
publish some of his works in Paris. Composers do not write without preparation,
so that he must have received, like his contemporaries, a solid technical
foundation. It is now known his teacher in Metz was Joseph Valette de Montigny
(1668-1738), an accomplished composer of motets, and not Henry Desmarest
(1661-1741 ). Boismortier married Maria Valette in 1721, one of his teacher's
nieces, child of a family of well-to-do goldsmiths.
On the recommendation of well placed
friends, Boismortier wound up his current business and left Perpignan to
establish himself, with his wife, at the court of the Duchesse du Maine, at
Sceaux, then in Paris, where he
Boismortier appeared at a time when people
only liked music that was simple and very graceful. This clever musician
profited all too much from this fashionable taste and for the generality wrote
numberless melodies and duets, to play on the flute, violins, oboes, musettes,
viols and so on … This was a very substantial output but unfortunately he was
too prolific in these light-weight pieces, some of which were particularly
marked by pleasing passages. He so abused the good nature of his numerous
buyers that in the end it was said of him:
Happy Boismortier, whose fertile pen
can monthly, without travail, father a
Boismortier, in reply to these criticisms,
said: I make money. This musician was pleasant, ingenious and good company: he
made verses in the style of Scarron and some of these were current in society.
Creatively prolific, Boismortier cannot
but surprise us by the abundance of his compositions, 102 works, to which may be
added songs, individual scores, motets and a musical dictionary. He was
also a theorist, publishing a method for the flute and another for the
pardessus de viole. He did not hesitate, following the custom of his time, and
certainly through a taste for new combinations and experiments, to
compose music for almost every instrument. Nevertheless the greater part of his work is for the transverse flute,
which, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, occupied, with the
harpsichord, a leading position. He made use of the instrument in all possible
and imaginable combinations.
At the same time Boismortier did not
neglect the voice, for which he wrote a quantity of serious and drinking songs,
French cantatas, small-scale and grand motets, cantatillas and, of
course, opéra-ballets, this last including Les Voyages de l'Amour (Love's
Journey) in 1736, Don Ouichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Ouixote at
the Duchess's) in 1743, Daphnis et Chloé (Daphnis and Chloe) in
1747, and two others that were not staged, Daphné in 1748 and Les
Quatre parties du monde (The Four Parts of the World) in 1752. Victim,
among so many others, of the Querelle des bouffons, he retired from
the musical scene in about 1753. Boismortier had a small property, the
Gâtinellerie, at Roissy-en-Brie, where he died at the age of 66, after
having asked to be buried in the nave of the parish church.
The Abbé Raynal, in 1747, wrote of
Boismortier in uncomplimentary terms:
This musician, more prolific than learned,
bad rather than mediocre, has acquired in his field the same reputation that
the Abbé Pellegrin had in his. The latter was obliged to make verses for his
living and died as a poet; the former
has made a fortune from the large number of works that he has given the
public. These are bought without
thought for their value; they only serve beginners on their instruments or some
wretched middle-class people in the concerts with which they entertain their
neighbours and fellows.
It is true that the nearly 50,000 crowns resulting from these
"harmonic products" could make more than one person jealous.
Bolsmortier developed, then, in a Paris
that was in a turmoil, inundated with Italian music under the influence of its
first precursors such as Couperin and characterised by a life devoted to the
pleasures that the Regent happily cultivated. During this period the great
salons were transformed into more intimate apartments and everything conveyed
the pretty rather than the beautiful, endless gracefulness, the search for
which sometimes came near to affectation. In music the petite manière became
queen, and long chaconnes or learned allemandes gave way to movements that had
a new technical brilliance. Boismortier was well aware of this change in
sensibility and gave expression to it in his writing.
In 1727, the date of publication of his Six
Concertos pour cinq flûtes traversières ou autres
instruments sans basse, oeuvre 15 (Six Concertos for five Transverse Flutes
or Other instruments, without Bass, Opus 15) Boismortier had in mind the
innovatory aspect of his collection. Since 1724, he had written duos for the
unaccompanied flute (Opp. 1,2,6,8 and 13), solos with basso continuo (Opp. 3
and 9), trios with bass (Opp. 4 and 12) and without bass (Op. 7). Opus 7
of 1725 must have served as a preparatory exercise for the composer for the
concertos for five flutes, for there was to be no other example in his entire
output of such an instrumental combination.
As always with Boismortler, the
elaboration of a new musical form, adapted to a particular instrument, is not
without importance. In fact, even if later it was said that Boismortier was the
first to have introduced the Concerto into France, he must have drawn
inspiration from contemporary attempts. Thus Michel Blavet, the first, had in
1726 offered to the Concert Spiritual his Concerto à quatre parties
pour flûte, deux violons et basse non chiffrée (Concerto in Four
Parts for Flute, Two Violins and Unfigured Bass). Much acclaimed, it entrusted
to the flute for the first time very long passages in semiquavers, passages
that recalled the violin or oboe concertos of an Albinoni or a Vivaldi. It was
not until 1729, however, that Boismortier, with his Opus 26, followed
Blavet's example with a Concerto pour le violoncelle, viole ou basson (Concerto
for Cello, Viol or Bassoon). Opus 21 of 1728, including Six Concertos
pour les flûtes traversières, violons ou hautbois avec la basse (Six
Concertos for Transverse Flutes, Violins or Oboes, with Bass) that Boismortier
had already produced, was in reality only a collection of trio sonatas, as he
said elsewhere himself: These can be played as trios, omitting the
There is nothing French about Opus 15.
This was, in fact, the first time in his career that Boismortier dared to
divide his pieces into three movements, fast-slow-fast, and give titles and
directions in Italian. If in the sonatas we might express doubts about the too
French form or titles, here everything is resolutely Italian.
The Concertos for Five Flutes, to
which Boismortier takes care to suggest a figured bass, do not fit completely
the definition of the concerto proposed by Rousseau: Piece written for a
particular instrument that plays alone from time to time with a simple
accompaniment, after a beginning for full orchestra: and the piece continues thus,
always alternating between the solo instrument and the orchestra. Certainly
in the pieces by Boismortier we do not find the same spirit of conflict between
the parts, but it is rather a matter of chamber concerto than solo concerto.
Boismortier borrows from Rousseau's
definition the idea of an orchestral introduction, starting his concertos with
a tutti of the five flutes, stating the tonality and the principal
theme. A first duo follows, often in thirds, with first and second flutes
constantly answering each other in a clever use of virtuoso characteristics.
The fifth flute, given figuration in the score, accompanies as a bass to this
solo. All the parts come together again for a new tutti, followed by
another antiphonal passage for third and fourth flutes, supported by the
"bass". The ending brings onto the scene all the actors, who often
finish in unison. The slow movements generally entrust their theme to the first
flute, while the other instruments, taking the ripieno part, accompany
it in slower notes. Boismortier turns
again to the principle of the first movement for the finale of the work.
Tonalities are perfectly suited to the melodic possibilities of the flute, G
major, A minor, D major, B minor, A major and E minor.
Later, in 1732, Boismortier included at
the end of a collection of Sonatas en trio, oeuvre 37 (Trio
Sonata, Op. 37) a remarkable concert piece written in five parts, the Concerto
in E minor, in which he draws on the lessons of his previous experience. He
is, therefore, noticeably more comfortable with the Handelian concerto grosso
than the solo concerto.
With Boismortier, care to be always
innovative seems to be a determining factor in the development of his
compositions. The fashion was then, that the concerto and everything Italian
was welcome. Corrette, Braun and Naudot were to follow this tendency and public
taste to achieve, with Boismortier, the definitive establishment of the
concerto form in France.
English version by Keith Anderson
Jocelyn Daubigney was born in Paris in
1964 and studied the flute with Raymond Guiot, Alain Marion and Ida Ribera In
1981 and 1982 he won two first prizes in the City of Paris Orchestral and Solo
Musician competition and appeared with the Ensemble Instrumental de France and
the Ensemble Orchestral Jean-Walter Audoli. His interest in early music led to
work with Pierre Séchet at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was awarded first
prize in 1998, subsequently working under the direction of Barthold Kuijken at
the Brussels Conservatoire, where, in 1991, he was awarded the diplôme
supérieur with high distinction. Jocelyn Daubigney performs and records
with a number of different baroque ensembles, including Les Talens Lyriques, Le
Concert Spirituel, La Grande Ecurie et La Chambre du Roy and the
Orchestre des Champs-Elysées. For Naxos he has recorded the cantatas and trio
sonatas of Louis-Nicholas Clérambault.
Anne Savignat studied successively with
Pierre Séchet and Barthold Kuijken at the Paris and Brussels Conservatoires. A
member of Le Concert Spirituel, with which she has recorded music by Lully,
Rameau and Boismortier, she appears also with Les Talens Lyriques, La Grande
Ecurie et La Chambre du Roy and Les Menus Plaisirs, as well as in chamber
Jan de Winne
Jan de Winne studied at the University of
Ghent and at the Conservatoire, completing his degree in musicology with high
distinction in 1986. At the Conservatoire he won first prizes in musical
theory, transverse flute and chamber music. Thereafter he specialised in early
music, continuing his studies at the Brussels Conservatoire with Barthold
Kuijken. He passed his diplome supérieur
in 1991, after being declared laureate in 1987
in the Bruges Musica Antiqua competition. He has appeared as a soloist and with
ensembles at a number of festivals and has recorded with the Chapelle Royale,
the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées, Il Fondamento and the Wiener Academie. His interest in early instruments has led to
his making flutes on models of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Jacques-Antoine Bresch began his studies
at the Strasbourg National Regional Conservatoire, where he took first prizes
in recorder, Baroque flute and chamber music and a diploma in early music. He
continued his studies at the Conservatoire du VII Arrondissement, with first
prizes in the two instruments, before further study with Barthold Kuijken at
the Brussels Conservatoire. There he
was awarded first prize in Baroque flute. Among ensembles with which he has
appeared are Les Talens Lyriques, Le Parlement de Musique, les Violons du Roy,
the Orchestre Baroque of Strasbourg and Capriccio Francais, participating in
many festivals, broadcasts and recordings.
Vincent Touzet studied the Baroque flute
with S. Saïta, H. d'Yvoire and J.C. Frisch and completed his training under
Barthoid Kuijken at the Brussels Conservatoire, where he took his soloist's
diploma. He appears with larger ensembles, including the Ensemble Baroque of Perpignan,
the Simphonie du Marais, Swiss Consort and Aimassis and in chamber music with
the Ensemble Clérambault. His earlier achievements included the award of first
prizes in flute and in chamber music at the Boulogne-Billancourt Regional
Conservatoire and a period at the Freiburg Musikhochschule. His interest in
contemporary music has brought collaboration with contemporary composers and he
has worked in new productions for Radio-France and the Groupe de Recherche
Jocelyn Daubigney plays a flute by J. de
Winne, 1995, after L. H. Rottenburgh, c 1725.
Anne Savignat plays a flute by A.
Weemaels, 1995, after L. H. Rottenburgh, c.1725.
Jan de Winne plays a flute that he made in
1995, after L. H. Rottenburgh, c.1725.
Jacques-Antoine Bresch plays a flute by J.
de Winne, 1995, after L. H. Rottenburgh, c 1725.
Vincent Touzet plays a flute by A.
Weemaels, 1995, after L. H. Rottenburgh, c.1725.
The flutes are at the pitch A=396.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier
It is difficult to see how musicologists
can consider Boismortier a minor figure, since he is, after all, the most
prolific French composer. Able, a writer of songs, gifted, a marvellous
orchestrator who investigated the possibilities of every instrument,
Boismortier is the Poulenc of the eighteenth century.
I am a happy to defend this underestimated
composer for the following reasons. In the first place his affinities with the
Concert Spirituel and with Lorraine brought about my decision to record
representative works by this man of the theatre and matchless chamber-musician
from Lorraine. Furthermore I cannot forget that in the eighteenth century
Boismortier was responsible for some of the great moments of the Concert
Spirituel. Every year at Christmas, for 25 years, his grand motet Fugit nox
resounded in the Salle des Cent Suisse of the Palace of the Tuileries,
confirming again the fame of a musician praised by all his contemporaries.
This series of recordings dedicated to the
work of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, native of Thionville, will allow listeners
to hear his music for the theatre, Don Ouichotte chez la Duchesse, Les
Voyages de l'Amour and Daphnis et Chloé, his Ballets de Village, his
concerti and a great part of his chamber music.
Director, le Concert Spirituel
Lorraine saw the birth of Callot, de la
Tour and Claude Gellée She inspired Barrès Péguy dedicated to her some of his
finest pages and can we forget Alain- Fournier, who died for her? Whether if is
because of the calm mists of early morning, or the lingering fog of November
with its light and shade, the changing skies brought here by the ocean winds or
the heat of July, whatever it is, Lorraine, with its golden heritage, its
squares, the shade of its tall cathedrals, its valley or the dark groves of its
great forests, produced and still produces some exceptional artistic talent.
The horrors of war ravaged the cities and
countryside and had a long-lasting effect on the people and their land They
also forged a popular imagery long before the invention of comics; the Images
Epinal from a print factory in the Vosges were sold by pedlars throughout
France, to the same places where later, leaving Phalsbourg, Erckmann and
Chatrian were to go One must stop before Ligier-Richier and admire The Temptation
of St Anthony by Callot or St John in the Desert by Georges de la
Tour, remembering that people used to come from great distances to attend the
funerals of the Dukes of Lorraine.
Now the musical heritage of Lorraine has
something new to discover It is to meet this demand that the Regional
Council of Lorraine and Naxos have collaborated to produce this release,
bringing to life again this musical history, of which Boismaortier's Six
Concertos for Five Flutes is a significant and striking example.
Gerard Longuet, President of the Regional
Council of Lorraine
The Laboratoire Pharmafarm is happy to
lend its support to the present recording. There have always been close
connections between musicians and those concerned with health in their shared
contribution to the well-being of soul and body Pharmafarm is delighted to
sponsor this valuable moral and cultural enterprise.
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BOISMORTIER: 6 Concertos for Five Flutes, Op. 15