About this Recording
8.573464 - DEVIENNE, F.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 2 - Nos. 5-8 (P. Gallois, Swedish Chamber Orchestra)
English  French 

François Devienne (1759–1803)
Flute Concertos • 2: Nos. 5–8

 

Born in 1759 in Joinville, Haute-Marne in the Champagne-Ardenne region of 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 from 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 24th March 1780, when Ozi performed ‘a new Bassoon Concerto composed by de Vienne’ at the Concert Spirituel. Devienne’s first appearance a soloist occurred two years later when on 24th December 1782 he performed ‘a new flute concerto’, probably his Flute Concerto No. 1 in D at the Concert Spirituel, and on 25th 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 3rd 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 7th April 1789, when he played the flute part in the première 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 organisation 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 12th 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 9th 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: 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, leading Montgomery to propose that they may have been written after the onset of Devienne’s mental illness which quickly impaired his ability to compose.

After the polish and sophistication of Concerto No. 4, Devienne’s Fifth Concerto appears on the face of it to represent a regression with its relatively unsophisticated handling of the orchestra and simpler formal structures—the second and final movement is cast as a theme and variations. This caused Montgomery to postulate that Concerto No. 5, published first in Paris by Porthaux and later in Amsterdam by Schmitt and in Offenbach am Main by Jean André (1794), might be one of the two unlocated Concertos d’airs connus which predate the publication (and possibly the composition) of the early concertos but which, for reasons unknown, Devienne decided to publish as a concerto. The work shares an important characteristic with Bassoon Concerto No. 1 in that it was published as a two-movement work. This is exceedingly rare in eighteenth-century concertos, although the two-movement pairing was very common in the symphonie concertante: indeed Devienne himself employs this pattern in a number of works. However, the typical two-movement pairing in these works finishes with a rondo, whereas in the present concerto Devienne casts the second movement as a theme and variations. A copy of the orchestra parts preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris includes a brief interpolated movement which serves as a link or introduction to the second movement. It is possible that this is the work of Devienne himself since the movement bears a striking resemblance to its counterpart in Concerto No. 7. The violin parts in this source, signed by Kreutzer and Rode, may have been used for a Parisian performance of the work, perhaps even with Devienne himself as soloist.

Concerto No. 6 in D is an exceptional work and was published in 1794 by André who had already shown a commercial interest in Devienne’s flute concertos. The work represents in Montgomery’s view a ‘compositional tour de force’, remarkable not only for the sophistication and complexity of its outer movements but also for the quality of its orchestral writing which is uniformly interesting throughout. The musical quality of the parts is matched by a new-found confidence in experimenting with orchestral timbres and for the first time Devienne entrusts a solo to the first oboe (albeit doubling the first violin at the octave). The outer movements are even richer in thematic material than Concerto No. 4 in G, the finest of the earlier concertos, and Devienne also makes use of a closing theme for the first time. The middle movement, like many concertos of the period, is fundamentally simple in style but the florid embellishments and arabesques of the solo part raise it to similar levels of virtuosity as the more obvious bravura outer movements. The finale, composed in the style of a Polonaise (albeit one that is unusually complex in form) lends a slightly exotic touch to this fine work. There are no performances of record for Concerto No. 6 and neither is there precise evidence of the work’s date of composition, but its technical brilliance and the sheer virtuosity of its flute writing—it is arguably the most difficult of all Devienne’s concertos—speaks of a composer at the height of his very considerable powers.

Although Devienne’s Seventh Flute Concerto is less technically demanding for the soloist than Concerto No. 6—and arguably less structurally convincing—the strongly melodic quality of the writing compensates for this and the work as a whole possesses an appealing and at time times compelling quality. The modest advances in orchestration seen in the previous work are extended further in Concerto No. 7 where Devienne attempts to apply a more sophisticated approach to the instrumentation of the solo sections. In one notable passage the solo flute part is doubled by the first violin and first oboe, and elsewhere he differentiates between the cello line and the bass line. This not only has important implications for tone colour but presents clear evidence that the concerto was almost certainly intended to be played with more than one instrument per part which, until comparatively recently, had been the almost universal practice in the performance of concertos. While it is probable that Devienne initially composed this work for his own use there are no recorded performances of it with the composer as soloist. There is some confusion over the concerto’s date of publication owing to a possible reprinting of the work using the original plates with a new address for the publisher, but Montgomery believes there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Imbault first issued the work in 1787–88.

The dating of Devienne’s eighth published flute concerto relies to a large extent on the context established by a catalogue of works available from the publisher Imbault, which was printed as part of the first edition. One of these works, Devienne’s Bataille de Gemmapp, dates from 1794 which Montgomery believes also establishes the likely publication date for Concerto No. 8 when considered alongside the evidence afforded by the publisher’s address. A later edition of the work was published by André in 1800 and a third edition, undated and issued by J. Amon in Heilbronn, also attests to the popularity of this concerto. A number of stylistic features mark this work out as belonging among the composer’s later and most developed concertos. It is the first of Devienne’s flute concertos which contain no passages scored for flute with a reduced accompaniment for the two violin parts only. This particular type of scoring is encountered widely in concertos composed during the mid-eighteenth century and Devienne himself had continued to use it extensively in his previous concertos. Its abandonment seems to have been part of a broader rethinking of his instrumentation as he sought to achieve greater sophistication in his writing. The orchestral parts are more carefully and attentively marked; there is occasional differentiation of the cello and bass parts and the inner parts—violin II and viola—are given greater melodic interest instead of being consigned to their traditional rôle of providing harmonic filling. Even the flute part contains a new point of interest in that for the first time in his concertos Devienne utilizes a”’, the highest possible note on the instrument. The use of this pitch is comparatively rare in the earlier part of the century, although Leopold Hofmann employed it in a concerto composed in the early 1770s.

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 characterises Devienne’s concertos is skilfully managed and makes them among the most attractive flute concertos of their time.

Allan Badley


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