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8.553639 - BOISMORTIER: 6 Concertos for Five Flutes, Op. 15
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 -1755)
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 received his first permission to publish on 29th February 1724. He was now finally able to issue his first books of duos for the transverse flute and his first French cantatas, written in Perpignan. This was the start of a prolific career in the capital, a career both admired and subject to criticism. Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, the famous theorist, a contemporary of Boismortier, wrote a charming and realistic portrait of the composer in his Essai sur la Musique Ancienne et Moderne (Essay on Ancient and Modern Music), published in 1780:
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:
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 ripieno.
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.
Jan de Winne
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier
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.
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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