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8.553647 - BOISMORTIER: Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Quixote at the Duchess')
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 - 1755)
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was born at Thionville on 23rd December 1689 and died at Roissy-en-Brie on 28th October 1755. He holds an exceptional position in the history of music in more than one respect. Born into the modest family of a retired soldier, who had settled in Thionville as the owner of a sweet-shop, he moved to Metz in 1700 and left Lorraine in 1713 to establish himself in the city of Perpignan as a clerk for the Royal Board of Tobaccos, a position remote enough from the world of music. There is no trace, indeed, of any musical activity of his during the ten years he spent in the city. It seems, however, that he did receive some musical instruction during this period from Joseph Valette de Montigny and in 1720 Boismortier married a niece of his, a member of a family of rich jewellers, subsequently, acting on the advice of highly placed friends, he proceeded to liquidate his business and settled with his wife and daughter at the court of the Duchess of Maine, at Sceaux and later in Paris, where he was first granted the privilege of printing his own compositions on 29th February 1724, allowing him now to publish his duets for transverse flute and the French cantatas that he had written in Perpignan.
In his Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne of 1780, the distinguished scholar Jean- Benjamin de La Borde painted a charming and realistic picture of the composer:
Boismortier appeared at a time when only simple and easy music was in fashion. This competent musician took all too much advantage of this tendency and shaped, for the many, airs and duets in great number which were performed on the flute, the violins, oboes, bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies . ..He so abused the ingenuousness of his numerous buyers that in the end the following was said of him:
Happy is he, Boismortier, whose fertile quill
Boismortier's answer to such pleasantries, remained simple enough and to the point: I am earning money. His output was remarkable, with some 102 pieces, to which may be added airs, other scores, grand motets and a dictionary of harmony. He also published practical manuals for the flute and the treble viol.
Vocal music by Boismortier includes serious songs, drinking songs, French cantatas, small motets, motets for large choirs, small cantatas and, naturally, opera-ballets, these last Les voyages de l'Amour (The Travels of Love) in 1736, Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Quixote at the Duchess') in 1743, the pastoral Daphnis et Chloé in 1747, the lyric tragedy Daphné in 1748 and, in 1752, Les quatre parties du monde (The Four Parts of the World).
Victim, among others of the conflict between Italian and French musical traditions, the so-called querelle des bouffons, he withdrew from the musical scene in 1753. He was the owner of a small property, La Gâtinellerie, at Roissy-en-Brie, and here, at the age of sixty-six, he died, shortly after requesting permission to be buried in the nave of the parish church there.
The three-act ballet Don Quichotte was the result of a collaboration with Charles-Simon Favart and was to involve material derived from Boismortier's own encounters in the salons of Paris. There, according to De La Borde, he was to be seen decked out in his finest golden costume, speaking eloquently, flirting with women, impressing everyone with his verses. This would have earned him the friendship of Favart, who raised vaudeville to new heights and participated in the birth of the French opéra-comique. The writer had won particular popularity in 1741 with La chercheuse d'esprit (The Seeker after Wit) at the Foire St-Germain. In 1743 he was engaged as stage manager and répétiteur by the Paris Opéra-Comique and in the same year Boismortier became assistant conductor for the orchestra of the Foire St- Laurent, with which Favart was allowed to work after the closure of the Opéra-Comique, an event that took place as a result of the jealousy of the Cornédie-Italienne.
Performed at the Royal Academy of Music on 12th February 1743, in a double bill with a revival of Jean-Joseph Mouret's Ragonde ou la soirée de village (Ragonde or the Village Evening), Boismortier's ballet was staged before Le pouvoirde l'Amour (The Power of Love), by Pancrace Royer, which had its first performance on 23rd April. Boismortier had, in consequence, competition from the most distinguished of his contemporaries. The tragic moral themes of Cervantes, however, became, under Favart, a true comédie-lyrique, with a plot that mingles the comic and the sad, much as had Le carnaval et lafolie (Carnival and Folly) by Destouches in 1704, de la Barre's La vénitienne in 1705 or Rameau's Platée in 1745. The production involved some of the best known performers of the time, with Marie Fel as Altisidore, Bérard and Cuvillier as Don Quichotte and Sancho, and the dancers Dumoulin, Lany and Dupré, with Mesdemoiselles Dallemand and Camargo. Voltaire wrote the following lines on Camargo and her rival Sallé, who danced in Boismortier's Les voyages de l'Amour:
The colourful and brilliant overture is followed by three acts, moving at a rapid pace, in which Boismortier makes use of some Rameau effects, triplet crotchets, short rhythmic passages, accompanied recitatives and distinctive orchestration. Rameau himself was to recall this work when, ten years later, he wrote his Boréades, in which two of the finest arias bear a striking resemblance to arias from Don Quichotte. The musical interludes ail have the pastoral characteristics of the period and, although Boismortier does not make use of the musette, the French shepherd bagpipe, to enhance them, he makes full use of the gavottes, bourrées, passepieds and other airs and dances that he happily reproduces in his compilation of sonatas. Naturally some arias provide an excuse for moralising on love and war and some instruments have the finest pages of the score assigned to them, as with the flute solo in Act II, Scene 3, with Altisidore's Eh, pourquoi mourir de changer and the oboe part in Act I, Scene 5, with the peasant girl's comic Je n'entends point le caquet d'un muguet.
Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse prefigures the success of Boismortier's pastorale Daphnis et Chloé, with a libretto by Laujon, which was first performed on 28th September 1747, forming the climax of his career, to be restaged and even parodied in 1752 by the Comédie- Italienne as Les bergers de qualité (The Shepherds of Quality). Numbered 102, Daphnis et Chloé ends Boismortier's catalogue of works, one of the most voluminous ever produced by an eighteenth century French composer.
Notes from the Stage Director, Vincent Tavemier
The Characteristics of a New Genre
The ballet-comique Don Quichotte, ordered by the King for the 1743 carnival, was something new, light and dazzling. Its immediate success brought abundant support and ensured the participation of great performers, Mademoiselle Fel and Camargo herself, the greatest and undisputed stars of the time. The originality of the libretto is striking. There is no mythology, no shepherd goings-on, no love-story, and no endless display of high- flown sentiments or silliness either. The story of Don Quichotte was skilfully adapted by Favart from Volume II of the novel by Cervantes and deals with a cruel mystification that ends with the unintended apotheosis of the hero. The story-line is incisive, quick and ironic and there are events where all hell breaks loose. The whole work gives the impression of a series of unexpected events, hence the dizzying rhythm, skilfully interrupted by pauses occasioned by the sudden turn of events.
Boismortier reinforces the general mood delightfully, with an abundance of varied themes, skilful transitions from one scene to the next and a constant shifting between brief arias and recitatives, with sudden soaring poetic moments, as in the final Chaconne. Here Favart is a Feydeau who has read Clélie and Boismortier is a Rossini who knows the work of Perrault. In short, Don Quichotte is a very comic and true false ugly fairy-tale.
The Greatness of Don Quichotte
The audience is invited to follow the same path, to decide whether Don Quichotte wins at the end or not: when the hero is honoured, the spectator may choose to see this final scene as yet another scheme set up by the Duchess or as the mysterious flight of the hero to the land of dreams. An open end of this kind makes of Don Quichotte a very modern work.
Don Quixote is resolved to leave. Much to everyone's surprise it is Sancho who, relishing the wine and food offered, devises a solution to the predicament. He seizes one of the Duchess's maids and declares her to be Dulcinea and when Don Quixote fails to recognise her, claims that this is the result of enchantment. The peasant-girl protests vigorously, but Altisidora and all the guests corroborate Sancho's tale, not without punishing him for making their life complicated. Indeed, by devising this new scheme, he forces them to improvise in a way they had not foreseen.
The Duke appears in the guise of Merlin, while the peasant-girl is discreetly removed. He indicates to Don Quixote that he will find Dulcinea in the cave of a certain Montesinos, where, as everyone knows, many famous lovers are kept under the spell of this hateful character. The Duke tells Don Quixote he must leave for this cave, in spite of all the dangers that may confront him. As for Sancho, he is condemned to receive a thousand strokes to undo the spell that made Dulcinea appear as a vulgar peasant-girl.
Don Quixote now fights successfully with a dwarf and a giant, both of them puppets. The mysterious cave now lies open before him. Montesinos welcomes him with a noble air, while the lovers, no longer spell-bound, rise from their long sleep to celebrate their deliverance in a series of dances.
Dulcinea, of course, is close at hand, still in the guise of a peasant-girl. Merlin (the Duke) intervenes once more to explains this state of affairs: Sancho did not submit to the thousand strokes, so he must be beaten in public, a task undertaken with great delight by twelve devils.
Much to everyone's surprise the beating does not change the appearance of Dulcinea. Altisidora appears, a sorceress as much as the Queen of Japan, and claims that she has maintained the spell to punish Don Quixote for rejecting her. Furthermore, to demonstrate her might and her anger, she orders the devils to abduct Dulcinea and carry her to the faraway land of Japan, while changing Don Quixote into a bear and Sancho Panza into a monkey. They alone will still be able to recognise their true identities.
Altisidora, who has still failed to win the Knight's heart, risks a final attempt. She promises death, if he resolves to reject her. Don Quixote remains unmoved by her threats. She threatens to kill Dulcinea, but Don Quixote remains steadfast. Altisidora has lost. Appearing one more time in the guise of Merlin, the Duke announces the end of the game. Don Quixote has surprised everyone by his courage and steadfastness.
Caught in their own trap and seized by the emotions stirred by the character of Don Quixote, all join together to crown him King of Japan and, in a final divertissement, to see his apotheosis and flight for the land of his dreams.
Notes from the Conductor
For these performances I used a printed edition of Don Quichotte that was prepared by Boismortier himself for the general public. As is often the case with such editions, the only parts included were those of the solo vocal line, with basso continuo and first violin parts. I needed to find the full orchestral version written for the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music, undoubtedly enriched with flute, oboe and bassoon parts, as well as the full and delightful combination of the haute-contre, taille and quinte violins, the hallmark of the French baroque sound. The manuscript was, in fact, lying in the library of the Paris National Opera. For remounting the work in its original version, adjustments had to be made to Boismortier's edition.
An eighteenth century critic said of "poor" Boismortier, that he could not develop a single musical idea. One might well wonder how he could, in view of the hundred ideas found on every page. He was, moreover, a particularly skilful theatre composer, and it would be impossible, even for a moment, to be bored, when each aria, short and brilliant, heralds another even more delightful.
Finally I should like to express my affection and admiration for Boismortier, with a wish that those who hear this recording will no longer think of him as a minor figure, a composer for the drawing-room.
I should also like to express my thanks to the Regional Council of Lorraine for its assistance in this adventurous and immensely pleasing project.
The distinctive signature of our Lorraine Region
Lorraine saw the birth of Callot, de la Tour and Claude Gellée. She inspired Barrès. Péguy dedicated to her some of his finest pages and can we forget Alain-Fournier, who died for her? Whether it is because of the calm mists of early morning, or the lingering fog of November with its light and shade, the changing skies brought here by the ocean winds or the heat of July, whatever it is, Lorraine, with its golden heritage, its squares, the shade of its tall cathedrals, its valley or the dark groves of its great forests, produced and still produces some exceptional artistic talent.
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 Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse is a significant and striking example.
Gérard Longuet, President of the Regional Council of Lorraine
The Grande Salle of l'Arsenal de Metz
Stephan Van Dyck
Le Concert Spirituel Hervé Niquet, conductor
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