About this Recording
8.573230 - DEVIENNE, F.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 1 - Nos. 1-4 (P. Gallois, Swedish Chamber Orchestra)
English  French 

François Devienne (1759–1803)
Flute Concertos • 1: Nos. 1–4


Born in 1759 in Joinville, Haute-Marne, in the Champagne-Ardenne region in France, François Devienne was among the most important composers of wind music in the second half of the eighteenth century. He probably received his earliest musical training from Morizot, the organist in Joinville, and continued his education with his elder brother and godfather, François Memmie, in Deux Ponts (Zweibrücken) from 1776 until May 1778. Little is known about his activities immediately following his departure from Deux Ponts although William Montgomery, the leading authority on Devienne, speculates that he may have spent some time with the Royal Cravate regiment during the following year. By the autumn of 1779 Devienne was a bassoonist in the orchestra of the Opéra in Paris and studying flute with the orchestra’s principal flautist, Félix Rault, to whom he dedicated the last of his flute concertos. It is likely that Devienne entered the service of Cardinal de Rohan as a chamber musician in the spring of 1780 where he remained until mid-1785. Like a number of prominent eighteenth-century musicians, he joined the Freemasons and was probably a member of the orchestra of the Loge Olympique during the 1780s in which he would have worked closely with its extraordinary leader, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The earliest performance of record in Paris of a work by Devienne took place on 24 March 1780, when Ozi performed ‘a new Bassoon Concerto composed by de Vienne’ at the Concert Spirituel. Devienne’s first appearance as a soloist occurred two years later when on 24 December 1782 he performed ‘a new flute concerto’, probably his Flute Concerto No. 1 in D, at the Concert Spirituel and on 25 March 1784 he made his début as a bassoon soloist playing his First Bassoon Concerto. From 1782 to 1785 Devienne appeared at the Concert Spirituel as a soloist on at least eighteen occasions but after 3 April 1785 he did not perform there again for another four years. His place of employment during this period is uncertain but it is possible that he may have been at Versailles as a member of the Band of the Swiss Guards.

Les spectacles de Paris 1790 lists Devienne as the second bassoonist of the Théâtre de Monsieur (later the Théâtre Feydeau) when it opened in January 1789, which suggests that he probably returned to Paris in the autumn or early winter of 1788. Within a year he had secured the position of Principal Bassoon which he held until April 1801. His first known solo appearance after his return to Paris was at the Concert Spirituel on 7 April 1789 when he played the flute part in the premiere of his Sinfonie concertante No. 4. In the autumn of 1790 he joined the military band of the Paris National Guard where his duties included teaching music to the children of French soldiers. This organization officially became the Free School of Music of the National Guard in 1792, and Devienne was one of the three sergeants in its administration with an annual salary of 1100 livres, five times the amount he was receiving at the Théâtre de Monsieur. The Free School, renamed the National Institute of Music in 1793, became the Paris Conservatoire in 1795.

Devienne’s opéra comique, Le mariage clandestin was staged at the newly established Théâtre Montansier in November 1791 and two more of his operas were staged before his most popular opera, Les visitandines (1792), was performed at the Théâtre Feydeau. That work was among the most successful operas of the Revolutionary period, receiving over 200 performances in Paris between 1792 and 1797.

As a result of his teaching experience at The Free School, Devienne wrote a method for the one-keyed flute that was published in 1794. This well-known method contains information on flute techniques and performance practice as well as a series of flute duets of progressive difficulty. When the Paris Conservatoire was established the following year, Devienne was appointed one of its nine elected administrators and Professor of Flute (First Class) with an annual salary of 5000 livres. After 1795 three more of his operas were staged and he occupied himself with his duties in the Théâtre Feydeau orchestra and at the Conservatoire. Devienne seems to have been an excellent teacher and five of his students won prizes at the Conservatoire between 1797 and 1801, and one, Joseph Guillou, was later appointed Professor of Flute.

The Théâtre Feydeau closed its doors on 12 April 1801 and the following September its orchestra merged with that of the Théâtre Favart to form the new Opéra-Comique orchestra. Devienne’s involvement with the new orchestra is uncertain and it is possible that his declining health prevented him from working. In May 1803 he entered Charenton, a Parisian home for the mentally ill, where he died the following September after a long illness. The obituary in the Courrier des Spectacles of 9 September 1803 was written by Devienne’s sixteen-year-old student “Guion fils”:

Citizen François Devienne died the eighteenth of this month in the house of Charenton, where he had been for four months under the care of the people of that art, who, in spite of all their efforts, were not able to cure him from a mental derangement which had degenerated into true madness, caused by the various sorrows which he had experienced during the Revolution…

At the age of ten years he composed a Mass which was played by the musicians of the Royal Gravatte, where he then was, which foretold of his natural disposition for the art of music…Death comes to carry him away at the age of forty-three; he takes with him the esteem and the regrets of the artists and his friends. He leaves in grief a wife and five children, of whom four are of tender years.

The government has already placed one at the Lycée de Bruxelles and one hopes that it will not forget the others in the repayment of his services.

Guillon fils

Student of Devienne at the Conservatory of Music

Devienne’s thirteen extant flute concertos fall into three broad groupings. The first three works were probably composed in their order of publication: Concerto No.1 in D (1782), Concerto No. 2 in D (1783) and Concerto No. 3 in G (1784). The dating of the Fourth Concerto is uncertain, but from its more sophisticated style it was probably composed in the late 1780s. Concertos Nos. 5–9 were published between 1787 and 1794, but the two-movement form and limited handling of the orchestra in Concerto No. 5 suggest that this work dates from the first half of the 1780s. Concertos Nos. 10–13 were published around the time of Devienne’s death and appear to have been composed over a period of several years. Concertos Nos. 10 and 13 are among his finest works and share many stylistic and structural characteristics with Concertos Nos. 6 and 9. Flute Concertos Nos. 11 and 12, however, are weaker in nearly every respect which led Montgomery to propose that they may have been written after the onset of Devienne’s mental illness which quickly impaired his ability to compose.

Flute Concerto No. 1 in D was published in Paris by Sieber in 1782. Given that Devienne’s performance of the work did not take place until 24 December that year it seems almost certain that the work was already in print before his performance at the Concert Spirituel. He also performed the concerto in the spring of 1783, the Journal de Paris announcing on 14 April and 17 April that ‘Today…at the Concert Spirituel…de Vienne will perform a flute concerto of his composition’. Two days later, a ‘second’ concerto—presumably the new Concerto No. 2 in D – was also performed. Two further performances by Devienne on 10 May and 19 June 1783, also announced in the Journal de Paris, probably refer to Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. The publication of a second edition of Concerto No. 1 by the Amsterdam publisher Schmitt in 1785 suggests that the work was well known outside Paris.

The publication of Flute Concerto No. 2 in D was announced in the Journal de Paris on 18 July 1783 [“2e Concerto a flute principale …exécuté au Concert Spirituel par M. Devienne le jeune, prix 4 liv. 4 f. A Paris chez le Sr. Imbault …rue S. Honoré; chez le Sr. Sieber, rue St Honoré”], and in the Journal de la Librairie on 2 August 1783. It is interesting to note that although the work was available through both Imbault and Sieber the latter did not publish it in spite of the obvious success of Concerto No. 1. The joint listing may have arisen because Imbault had not yet obtained a printing privilege and Sieber, through his publication of Devienne’s First Concerto, had an obvious commercial interest in being able to sell the work. Like Concerto No. 1, a second edition of the work was issued in Amsterdam by Schmitt in 1785.

Devienne turned to another Parisian publisher, Le Duc, for the publication of his Third Concerto which was announced in several papers between 9 November 1784 (Journal de Paris and Gazette de France) and 8 January 1785 (Journal de la Librairie); the Mercure de France also advertised the work on 26 November 1784. How and why Le Duc came to publish Concerto No. 3 is a mystery given the rôles of Sieber and Imbault in the publication of the first two concertos unless, in the best cut-throat tradition of eighteenth-century Parisian music publishing, he obtained a copy of the work illegally and issued it without the consent of the composer. That no second edition was published shows that either the work proved to be less popular than its predecessors or that Le Duc was indeed Devienne’s choice of publisher. The increased advertising of the work suggests the latter is probably correct.

It is odd that the publication of Devienne’s Fourth Concerto, one of his best and most interesting concertos, was not announced in the Parisian press. If, as Montgomery believes, the work dates from the late 1780s, then this curious omission may have arisen as a consequence of the tumult that enveloped France in 1789. Once again it was Sieber who issued the first edition of the work and a second, printed in London by Wheatstone, was likely based on Sieber’s print. Certainly the style of the title page, which is entirely in French, suggests that this might well be the case.

Devienne’s concertos are in some respects closer in style to those of Saint-Georges than, for example, to the concertos of Carl Stamitz and Ignaz Pleyel, which enjoyed great popularity in Paris during the 1780s and 1790s. In his works there is a strong stylistic divide between melody and accompaniment with little evidence of contrapuntal thinking, motivic development or a desire to integrate the solo instrument more closely with its accompaniment. Nonetheless, as the four concertos on this recording demonstrate, the combination of melodic elegance and graceful virtuosity that characterizes Devienne’s concertos is skilfully managed and makes them among the most attractive flute concertos of their time.

Allan Badley

A note from the soloist

François Devienne was the founder of the French flute school. He codified flute technique and performance practice, also looking more widely at pre- and post-Revolutionary French music in a survey similar to that carried out in Germany in 1752 by Johann Joachim Quantz. Devienne’s flute method, published in 1794, was probably consulted by all flautists (including Saverio Mercadante) throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth (when a new edition prepared by Philippe Gaubert was issued).

Only a tiny number of Devienne’s works are played these days—his music is still part of every young flautist’s studies, but is often misunderstood by performers because so many of the published editions are strewn with errors.

Given that this music is felt to be academic and lacking in imagination, I’ve tried to find a new approach—forgetting everything I knew about it, and learning to read it afresh before performing it. The fact that Devienne was thought of as the “French Mozart” caused his music to fall into neglect, even though he was writing during the “Sturm and Drang” period in which the sons of J.S. Bach were leading figures.

What’s involved in finding such an approach? To begin with, of course, it means considering a work within its historical context, attempting to understand the composer and his methods, and getting to know his key compositions; but it also requires an awareness of other works and performance practices from the periods before and after that specific work’s creation. From 1750 to 1800, there were so many overlapping influences between one school and another, affecting research methods and the way in which different styles developed, that it is almost impossible now to play as Devienne himself would have done—a close approximation is the best we can hope for.

How can we understand Devienne except by putting Mozart to one side? The genius of Mozart is that, even when it is badly played, his music remains unique and beautiful. Devienne requires a specific approach, great precision of ornamentation, inflection, articulation and phrasing. This brings us up against a widespread problem: we’re making so many musical rediscoveries, but without the time needed to get to know them in depth, and so we’re applying ready-made solutions to the difficulties raised. Many composers have been labelled “minor” simply because we haven’t found the right route into their music.

A French artist has nothing to do with a German, Austrian or Italian artist. How can we describe the French spirit? Not with words, that’s for sure, but I can see certain affinities between Devienne and Poulenc, Milhaud and Ibert. They share an originality, a freedom of musical line and harmony, and a refreshing sense of enthusiasm: even with a simple theme and unadorned harmonies, the music remains interesting and captures listeners’ attention, not letting go until the very last note.

Working on Devienne’s method and his complete concertos in conjunction with the method and six concertos of Mercadante, a great admirer of Devienne, has enabled me to find my own path through the music, thanks to clear explanations as regards ornaments, slurring and tonguing technique: the “syllabation” of the text. In other words, the division of a musical text into individual sounds in the way a poem might be broken down into individual syllables (c.f. Charles de Bériot’s discussion of syllabation in his violin method of 1857).

Music raises endless questions, and each new era brings new answers. I hope that this album, with its fresh, invigorating approach, will provide at least some answers to the questions posed by François Devienne.

Patrick Gallois
Translation: Susannah Howe

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