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As in the time of Louis XV, four musicians gather to play music among friends. Luc Beauséjour, Hélène Plouffe and Grégoire Jeay join Argentinean Juan Manuel Quintana in a feast of pieces centered around the 1740s Paris. Works by Telemann, Blavet, Forqueray and Leclair featuring the violin, the flute and the viola da gamba intertwined with excerpts from Rameau’s Clavecin en concert.

For Voltaire, 1775, the year of the death of Louis XIV “would mark the end of a great era, after which everything would seem drab and paltry.” Actually, until mid-century, French and world history lacked major events. In fact, after the stabilization of social, economic and intellectual structures in the eighteenth century, the deeper strata of society began to shift. These subterranean upheavals, hardly discernible to contemporary Frenchmen, were to pave the way for the “Lumières” (the Age of Enlightenment) and the fall of the regime.

While great and small courts from Spain to Russia and from Stockholm to Naples were building imitations of Versailles and adopting the language and style of the Sun King, intellectuals and avant-garde artists were thronging to Paris, which had become the model of good taste in Europe and, more than ever, the fount of culture. Wealth was no longer the sole privilege of the nobility. The successful bourgeoisie, especially that of high finance, cultivated patronage, as was the case of the farmers-general, who were great music lovers. Literary salons, temples of wit, followed suit and became more open to musical fashions.

Of course, the musical mecca was still the Royal Academy, with its surviving high privileges instituted by Lully, and the Opera. Since 1725, the Concert Spirituel had been offering twenty to twenty-five events a year to a paying audience. During the same period other musical societies, where one could find foreign composers, first Italian and gradually, German, came into being. At the financier Crozat’s domain, concerts were held twice weekly. Madame de Prie’s “Concert Italien,” also scheduled twice a week at the Tuileries, next to the Concert Spirituel, relied on sixty subscribers thanks to whose generosity the best artists were hired. The Prince of Conti, the Duke of Aumont, and later the Baron Bagge, to name but the more fortunate nobles, music lovers and often competent performers and composers themselves, also offered music. But so did musicians, who, in order to attract an audience, try out new programs and treat their friends, organized private concerts.

Rameau: Troisième and Cinquième concert

However, those given by the farmer-general Le Riche de La Poplinière, on rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, then on rue de Richelieu and at the Chateau de Passy, eclipsed all other musical evenings in Paris. No one was so adept at discovering new talent, choosing the best musicians and offering them splendid hospitality. The most famous among the latter was Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). La Poplinière housed and fed him and his family while he was still known merely as a theoretician, and he entrusted his orchestra to him. It is there that Rameau created most of his masterpieces, beginning with Hippolyte et Aricie, which established his fame on the stage and his reputation as an avant-garde composer. In effect, the work was revolutionary for music lovers who were fans of Lully and Campra. From that moment, the Chateau de Passy became the “Citadelle du Ramisme” and a real musical laboratory that was maintained, after Lully, by Stamitz and Gossec.

Leclair: Sonate en trio in D major

Representing the height of French music, Rameau became the herald of the most prestigious musicians of a younger generation raised on foreign music, especially Italian music. Among them stood Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), the greatest composer of violin sonatas in France. He perfected the blending of the Italian and French styles, such as had been attempted by Couperin , for example. A native of Lyon, he was a ballet master at the Turin Opera for a while, and then, went up to Paris a first time in 1723 and published his first sonatas there. He returned to Turin and studied with Somis. In 1728, in Paris once more, he made his debut at the Concert Spirituel, where he performed frequently. After living in Holland and Spain, he came back to Paris for good in 1744. He was often accompanied by someone close to Antoine Forqueray and especially his son, Jean-Baptiste.

Forqueray: La Buisson

In 1747, Jean-Baptiste Forqueray arranged for the publication of five suites, only two of whose pieces he did not attribute to his father, although it is impossible to determine who wrote what. Antoine Forqueray (1672-1745) had the reputation of wanting to succeed in doing with the viol what the Italians had done with the violin. And it is true that although Forqueray’s pieces follow the French arrangement for the viol and basso continuo, they also reveal the influence of the Italian violin school, with their harmonic boldness and technical prowess, surpassing the works of Marin Marais . His relationship with Leclair may be the explanation.

Blavet: Sonata in E minor, Op. 3 No.3

Entirely self-taught, Michel Blavet (1700-1768) throughout his life maintained the idiosyncrasy of playing the flute on the left side. Starting in 1726, he performed at the Concert Spirituel with unfailing success and made of the flute a solo instrument. It was said he had the clearest embouchure, the smoothest sounds and a brilliance bordering on genius. His friendship with Quantz and his fame earned him an invitation from Frederic II, which he refused.

Telemann: Quatuor in G major

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), indefatigable promoter of French music in his own country, offered a good example of reciprocity since he was able to interest the French in German music. He spent several months in Paris between 1737 and 1738, became the first German on the program of the Concert Spirituel and launched a subscription to his New Quartets. In 1745, one finds Forqueray by the side of Blavet, Marella and Labbé for the first production of Telemann’s quartets, justly nicknamed Parisian Quartets. This justifies the presence of a German musician in this very French concert.

© Pierre Jaquier
Translated by Annie P. Prothin

Double- manual harpsichord à grand ravalement after Ruckers and Taskin by Réjean Poirier, Montreal 1975.

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Luc Beauséjour
AN 2 9879 Bach Krebs Abel – Peres et Fils: Musique du Cercle
AN 2 9879 Bach Krebs Abel – Peres et Fils: Musique du Cercle
AN 2 9879 Bach Krebs Abel – Peres et Fils: Musique du Cercle

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