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FRANCOIS DEVIENNE  

(1759 - 1803)

The instrumental music of the end of the later eighteenth century has attracted increasing attention in the last twenty years of musicological research. Every historical period includes a number of brilliant composers who upstage innumerable other composers in the eyes of modern audiences, while today there is, for the first time, a fuller awareness of the past and a truly critical attitude towards cultural history. In the so-called classical period, work by Mozart and Haydn represents the spirit of an age in which both the audience and the concert underwent changes: halls became larger to provide room for growing middleclass audiences, the pianoforte became established as the leading instrument on the eve of romanticism and the opera had become the most important form for a composers social standing. The fact that the two central figures of the period wrote relatively little for wind instruments is in itself probably sufficient reason for musicians and researchers now to show more interest in work by their contemporaries. This work is fascinating in that, through instrumental analysis and considerations of national differences, new light is brought to bear on the development of the styles and personalities of the great virtuosi.

Among these last we must include Franois Devienne, who was born in 1759 in Joinville (Haute-Marne) and died in 1803, a most fascinating figure. Thanks to research by Emile Humblot at the beginning of the twentieth century, we now have a fair amount of biographical information about him. He seems, at the early age of ten, to have been a member of the Regiment Royale des Cravates, a military band and therefore a usual school for brass or woodwind players at the time. He settled in Paris in 1779 and took up his first position as bassoonist with the Opra de Paris. At the same time, he was also studying the flute with Flix Rault. It seems that he entered the service of the Cardinal de Rohan as a chamber musician and was a member of the orchestra of the Loge Olympique. After a period with the Swiss Guard, in 1788 he joined the orchestra of the Thtre de Monsieur as second, later first bassoonist, and at the same time played with the Paris Garde Nationale, which was to be active in setting up the Paris Conservatoire in 1795, where Devienne would become one of the first flute teachers.

Deviennes compositions for flute, revived by Jean-Pierre Rampal in the 1960s, are now better known to flautists, but still not, unfortunately, to the public at large. As well as extensive educational work, including the well-known Mthode of 1794, with its extremely interesting articles on technique and style of the time, his collected work also includes eight books of sonatas for flute or bassoon, a variety of chamber music and no less than seventeen concertos. The brilliant and melodic style of these last makes them perfect examples of the concertante classical genre, comparable only to work by the Viennese composer Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754–1812), who himself wrote some 25 concertos for flute.

Deviennes concertos, however, are, remarkably enough, frequently closer to the spirit of Mozart, who while in Paris had attended the Concerts spirituels. It was there that Devienne frequently, and with great success, played his compositions, which were brilliant reflections of the elegant tone of Paris at the time. Concerto No. 2 in D major is an example of grace and balance, two characteristics to be found in the fine portrait of the composer by Jacques-Louis David, qualities which are associated with Mozart, explaining why Devienne was called the French Mozart.

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