Olivier Brault has enjoyed an international career for over 30 years. Professor of Baroque violin at McGill University, he is also the director of Sonate 1704 (Québec) and of the ensemble Les Goûts [...]
They spoke about it
Boismortier: Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, Op. 20
There are only three known copies of Boismortier’s unique collection of sonatas for violin and continuo, Op. 20, published in 1727. According to Stéphan Perreau (Joseph Bodin de Boismortier 1689 – 1755; Un musicien lorrain-catalan à la cour des Lumières, Les Presses du Languedoc, Montpellier, 2001), he probably settled in Paris in 1723, and, having decided to live on his publications alone and not under the patronage of any court or institution, had to discern what music lovers wanted. Boismortier thus became an exceptional barometer of the taste for music that people purchased to perform themselves or to have performed in their homes. The authority of the “great” and the “grave” having considerably diminished at the end of the reign of Louis XIV and during the Regency in favour of the “moving” and the “tender” – qualities that the French associated with the transverse flute in particular – it was only natural that of Boismortier’s 19 first publications, no fewer than 11were devoted to the flute. However, as French tastes changed and moved away from old constraints, French music also began to fall under extensive Italian influences, most notable among them the violin. Long associated with dance rhythms in France, the violin was suddenly shown to have both admirable singing qualities and a new virtuosity in its own specific idiom. None of this happened without debate, so much so as to question the very meaning of Italian style, with its multiple motivic developments, as compared to the clear musical discourse of French style. By the late 17th century, some French musicians were beginning to explore Italian style, backed by patrons such as Nicolas Mathieu, a priest at Saint-André-des-Arcs in Paris, and later Duke Philippe d’Orléans, nephew of the king and regent of France, who held salons on the outskirts of Versailles. Composers such as Rebel, Jacquet de la Guerre, Couperin, and Duval paved the way; but with the founding of the “Concert Spirituel” in 1725, a new generation of soloists began competing to win over audiences free to express their preferences – none of which would have escaped Boismortier’s attention. In writing for the violin, he was following a trend, but since he was not a performer himself, works by violinist/composers, such as his friend Jean-Marie Leclair, enjoyed a more long-term distribution.
As the first bourgeois musician, and protective of his freedom, Boismortier addressed his customers as if they were peers or even friends. Perreau notes that he knew how to promote himself and was a master of the art of conversation, that well-to-do amusement so dear to French society. This art is manifest in the 10 duet books he published before 1727, and it also characterizes his music for treble and basso continuo, including the violin sonatas. They are fresh, dialogued, inventive, and moving, finding a balance between enthusiasm and a certain depth. Here, Boismortier sacrificed only one new trend of his time, that of simplifying the bass in favour of a loquacious and ambitious solo part. While the inspiration for Op. 20 is clearly Italian, starting with the title of each piece, French style is nonetheless apparent in the use of figures, ornamental possibilities, rhythmic variety, and the use of dance movements such as the tender gavotte, the loure, the passepied, and the sarabande – eloquent examples of a union of styles.
We hope that this world premiere recording will promote the finesse of Boismortier’s unique spirit, as expressed by the violin.
© Olivier Brault