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8.553414 - BOISMORTIER: Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord, Op. 91

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689- 1755)

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689- 1755)

Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord, Op. 91 (c. 1742)


Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was born in 1689 at Thionville, where he spent his early childhood. At the age of ten he moved with his family to Metz and thence, in 1713 or 1714, to Perpignan, a town that he seems to have left in the early 1720s to settle in Paris. Here his prolific talent as a composer and his very considerable number of compositions won him a reputation and enough money to allow independence of patrons. In 1724 he published his first works, two sets of six sonatas for two flutes, six sonatas for flute and basso continuo, twelve little trio sonatas for two flutes and continuo and four French cantatas on the four seasons. This was the beginning of a voluminous series of compositions that by 1747 had amounted to 102 works. Although he seems to have boasted no particular skill as a performer or as a director of his own music, he nevertheless is recorded as having served as chef d'orchestre at the Foire St-Laurent in 1744 and in 1745 at the Foire St-Germain. He is reported later, however, as having declined to direct performances, telling the director of the Opera and Concerts: Messieurs, viola ma partition; faites-en ce que vous pourrez, car, pour moi, je n ' entends pas plus a faire valoir que plus petit enfant de choeur (Gentlemen, here is my score; make of it what you can, for I understand nothing more of the matter than a little choir-boy). He continued to write until his death in 1755 at the house he had bought at Roissy-en-Brie.


Boismortier's very fecundity aroused hostile criticism. The Abbe Raynal, for example, claimed that the public was indiscriminate in its purchase of music by Boismortier, compositions that were only useful for beginners or for the dull bourgeoisie. Another jibe was in circulation:


      Bienheureux Boismortier, dont la fertile plume

      Peut taus les mois, sans peine, enfanter un volume


(Happy Boismortier whose fertile pen can every month with ease give birth to a volume).


D'Aquin too, while including Boismortier in his list of distinguished composers, could not avoid remarking that his reputation would have been higher had he published less. He adds particular praise for the pastoral opera Daphnis et Chloe, staged at the Academie Royale in Paris in 1747 and published as Opus 102. This, he claims, was not displeasing, although its success may have been due rather to the words. Nevertheless, he continues, Boismortier knew how to please popular taste in his music for flutes or musettes. From another source we learn that he had earned 50,000 ecus from his music. Pere Jean-Benjamin Laborde found rather more to admire, claiming, in his Essai sur la Musique of 1780, that there was gold to be found by those willing to search through Boismortier's work - Quoique ses oeuvres soient oublies, quelqu'un qui voudrait se donner la peine de fouiller cette mine abandonnee pourrait y trouver assez de laillettes pour faire un lingot (Although his works may be forgotten, someone who would be willing to take the trouble of searching this abandoned mine could find there enough flakes of gold to make an ingot). However facile he may have seemed to some of his more earnest contemporaries, he certainly enjoyed popular esteem, made money from his music and, more important, was credited with the introduction of the Italian concerto form into France.


The Sonates pour un clavecin et une .flute traversiere were published in Paris in 1742 as Opus 91. The publication is unusual in that it includes a completely

realised harpsichord part, something relatively seldom found in works of this kind. The form of the sonatas and the key-pattern of the movements, however, are conventional. The movements of each sonata remain in the same tonality, while the movement-structure is generally in two parts, separated by a double bar with a repeat, after which there is a modulation to introduce the second section. Only two of the movements have dance indications, the Sicilienne of the first sonata and the Menuet of the last. Other movements are alternately gay or graceful, the latter term reserved for tender slow movements and the former generally for the joyful outer movements. Flute and harpsichord are treated idiomatically, with equal importance given to each instrument in sonatas that are as pleasing now as they were to Boismortier's first public.


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