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8.550760 - FOSSA: Guitar Trios, Op. 18
François de Fossa (1775 - 1849)
Until recently, François de Fossa was no more than an occasional footnote in specialist guitar biographies, a name occasionally linked with the great Spanish guitarist composer, Dionisio Aguado, his friend and musical collaborator. A few aficionados have always known of de Fossa's works, however, and the renewal of interest in nineteenth century guitar repertoire has gradually begun to reacquaint the wider guitar-playing community with them. Research into the genesis of the Boccherini guitar quintet manuscripts, by the musicologist and guitar sleuth Matanya Ophée, has revealed de Fossa to be their copyist, and in the process provided a wealth of detail relating to de Fossa's life and family background. The documents concerning François survive largely because of his father's status as an eminent jurist, historian and professor of law at the University of Perpignan. It is here in the Fonds Fossa that the family archives are kept.
François de Paule Jacques Raymond de Fossa was born on 31st August, 1775 in Perpignan. His early years are not well chronicled, but in April 1793, three months after Louis XVI was guillotined, de Fossa left for Spain and embarked on the military career that he followed for the rest of his life. As a member of the regiment known as the "Legion de Pyrenees", de Fossa saw action in the 1794 and 1795 campaigns, during which he fought against France as part of the Spanish coalition. Thereafter he served under Miguel d' Azanza, the Spanish Minister of War, and when d'Azanza was appointed Viceroy and Captain General of "New Spain" (Mexico) by Charles IV, he invited de Fossa to accompany him. While in Mexico, de Fossa visited Mexico City, Puebla and then Acapulco where his primary responsibility was to monitor the English squadron of battleships that had blockaded the port. Contemporary letters in the Fonds Fossa contain hilarious accounts of de Fossa's romantic adventures and drinking exploits abroad. The siege ended in 1802 after the signing of the treaty of Amiens and de Fossa returned to Spain. Six years later he was elevated to the position of bureau chief in the Ministry of the Indies. Imprisoned by the French after the battle of Granada in 1810, de Fossa was paroled by Joseph Bonaparte and fled to France with the Grande Armée when Joseph fell from power in 1813. He then served in the Third and subsequently the Twenty-Third Regiment of Line, attaining the rank of Battalion Commander in 1823, the same year in which he married Marguerite Sophie Vautrin of Strasbourg. He was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur and in 1839, following his services in the Algerian war, an Officer of the Legion d'Honneur. He died in Paris on 3rd June, 1849 aged 73.
Although de Fossa's military career is well covered in the Fonds Fossa, most of our knowledge of de Fossa's musical training, his models and influences, must be deduced from an examination of his works. We know a little about his attitude to professional composition from a letter written to his sister while de Fossa was stationed in Madrid in 1808. His disillusionment at the tiny fee he was offered for his much admired three quartets, almost certainly the Opus 19 set, finally dissuaded de Fossa from choosing music as a full-time occupation - the familiar musical combination of praise, encouragement and minimal financial return. Nevertheless de Fossa published guitar works throughout his life, no doubt subsidised by his officer's pay packet.
In spite of the recent attention paid to de Fossa, most of his works remain relatively unknown to the broader musical establishment. In the last decade, some of his pieces have been republished, including the Trois Trios Concertants Opus 18 and various solo and duet works, but it is surprising that the present recording of the Trios is the first. Indeed de Fossa's neglect is something of a puzzle, as his main chamber works, the Three Trios and Three Quarters, Opus 19, represent nineteenth century ensemble repertoire with guitar at its most cultivated. For although there is no shortage of guitar chamber music, much of it is uneven in quality and for the guitarist at any rate, rather unsatisfying: the instrument is generally treated as a harmonic and rhythmic servant, a supplier of arpeggiated and chordal accompaniments; rarely as a musical partner entrusted with important thematic material. De Fossa's chamber works are very different, and in this last respect particularly. Here the guitar shares a melodic responsibility equal to the bowed strings. When it is required to perform a rhythmic or accompanying role, the part is generally intelligently worked, collegial, and often cleverly based on the work's central thematic material. De Fossa seldom chooses the formulaic and takes full advantage of the particular beauty inherent in the contrasting sonorities of plucked and bowed strings. He generally succeeds in balancing the three instruments effectively, a potentially awkward task.
All three trios follow the standard classical four movement form: a first movement in sonata form, a slow movement, a minuet and trio and an allegro finale. The first trio commences with a declamatory theme that leads to a gentler, balancing phrase -like most of the movements' opening statements, the composer gives the material to the guitar. In common with so many quieter passages in the music of de Fossa and Boccherini, this gentle theme is marked "dolce': When it is developed by the violin, the guitar punctuates the texture with the original martial rhythm. The second subject, again played by the guitar, is a motive in triplets also draws on elements of the first theme - as does the opening violin melody of the Largo movement, with its rhythmic augmentation of rising thirds and its characteristic drooping semitone figure. When the guitar plays its first melody of the slow movement, once again this is a variant of the first movement's opening dotted statement. Unity and coherence of musical thought and construction, integral to all good composition, is far removed from the many prosaic pieces of de Fossa's guitarist/composer contemporaries. But throughout his Trios, de Fossa displays a strongly personal harmonic vocabulary, a confident sense of form, and a high degree of sophistication (as well as quirkiness) in the moulding and development of his musical material.
De Fossa was evidently familiar with the instrumental music of his day, especially the works of Boccherini, Haydn and Beethoven. His scores are peppered with the turns, grace notes and ornaments that one finds in Boccherini's compositions, and there is a similar openness and rhythmic drive to some of his melodic writing. The Lorte tune at the end of the Rondo of Opus 18, No.1 is a good example. Here there is a sudden modulation to G major, the violin playing an ascending sequence supported by guitar arpeggios and a seven bar pedal note on the cello. De Fossa's works are also imbued with a Haydnesque rhythmic spirit, especially in the minuets, where the influence of the ländler is quite apparent. This is most notable in the Minuet and Trio of Opus 18, No.1. Here, as in the minuet and trio of his own guitar quartets Opus 19, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, da Fossa employs the unusual technique of a più presto minuet for the da capo repeat. This incidentally is also a feature of the Minuet in Beethoven's quartet Opus 18, No.4.
One of the most appealing of de Fossa's musical qualities is his sense of humour, which is particularly evident in his use of accents, dynamics, syncopation and imitative devices. Like Haydn, and unlike less accomplished ensemble composers for the guitar, de Fossa's harmonic shifts do not substitute for musical ideas. They serve to involve and amuse the listener in the work's progress, which can become an infectious, rococo ride through unexpected chords, chromaticisms, and key changes; best shown in the outer movements of the Second Trio. Similarly, de Fossa's use of contrasting instrumental textures – for example the guitar harmonics in the final movement, and the pedal points in the Trio of the same work -is entertaining for player and audience alike. But de Fossa's wit is also married to a strong sense of vocal line. In fact the passion and drama of the opera stage often feel very close at hand.
The demands made on the cellist in de Fossa's Trios are quite unusual and go well beyond w hat one would expect to find in comparable works of his contemporaries. De Fossa's debt to Boccherini, probably the most innovative and accomplished cellist of his time, is clear in the cello writing of the Trois Trios Opus 18. He too requires similar high thumb positions and rapid passage-work, sometimes both simultaneously, and there are memorable cello highlights in the first movement of the Second Trio and in the haunting Romance of the third. It is no surprise to learn that the Trios were dedicated to a virtuoso of the instrument- the Strasbourg cellist Heinrich Moritz Saxmann (1784 - 1829).
Nevertheless, de Fossa's use of bowed strings is not quite as developed or as idiomatic as his use of the guitar where he reveals a mastery and intimacy that is clearly the product of many years of study. There are several violin and cello passages which do not fall as easily under the hand (or bow) as they might had a non-guitarist composed them. Although in a curious way this may help to account for some of de Fossa's unusually fresh and original turns of phrase. There is a more convincing explanation, however: as a professional soldier de Fossa was never trapped in the competitive and financially precarious world of the jobbing urban musician, obliged to teach the guitar to the gentry, and compelled to produce reams of simple music for the amateur market. Instead he worked for his own amusement and satisfaction, and at a rate and a musical level of his own choice.
1994 Simon Wynberg
For this recording, facsimiles of the Richault edition of the Trois Trios Concertants Op. 18, were used (publ. c. 1826). This facsimile edition, edited by Simon Wynberg is published by Editions Chanterelle, Postfach 103909, D 6900 Heidelberg, Germany.
Thanks to Robert Hulse, Nöel Edison and Ross and Marion Beatty Biographical information on de Fossa is drawn from Boccherini's Guitar Quintets New Evidence, Matanya Ophee (Editions Orphée, Boston 1981).
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