About this Recording
8.573465 - DEVIENNE, F.: Flute Concertos, Vol. 3 - Nos. 9-12 (P. Gallois, Swedish Chamber Orchestra)
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François Devienne (1759–1803)
Flute Concertos • 3: Nos. 9–12

 

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 twomovement 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.

A lack of formal cohesiveness in the first movement of Devienne’s ninth published flute concerto and an overreliance on mechanical figuration in the variations finale undermines to some extent the high intrinsic musical quality of this attractive work. Nonetheless, Devienne’s careful attention to detail in the orchestral accompaniment, the care he takes with voice leading and the effort he makes to create a more melodically interesting orchestral fabric, continues the trend set in Concerto No. 8. His use of accompaniments scored for two violins, one of the hallmarks of the eighteenth-century flute concerto, is severely curtailed in Concerto No. 9 and indeed never appears again in Devienne’s concertos. He also expands the number of pitches played by the horns which points to a growing sophistication in his manipulation of orchestral colour. The Concerto No. 9 was the first of Devienne’s works to be published by the Frères Gaveaux and the layout of the solo part is of particular interest. In the tutti sections, the flute part is written in a two-staff system with the basso. The flute part does not reproduce the first violin part verbatim; where technical difficulties arise that are instrument specific to the violin the flute part is altered, suggesting that it is intended to be played. As Montgomery notes, it is difficult to know whether this innovation came from Devienne or Gaveaux, but with the addition of the basso part it seems that this particular layout was designed with the idea in mind that the orchestra would be directed by the soloist. Gaveaux’s edition of c.1793–1812 was followed by a second edition issued by André which appeared between 1806–1809; although there are no performances of record, the existence of a second edition of Concerto No. 9 suggests that it was well known and enjoyed a considerable measure of popularity.

Unlike Concerto No. 9 which, for all its many beauties, has a number of technical weaknesses, Concerto No. 10 in D is one of Devienne’s finest flute concertos, distinguished equally by the beauty of its thematic material and its confident, cohesive musical structure. The orchestral writing is deft and reflects not only the composer’s newfound capacity to write melodically interesting parts rather than functional harmonic fillers but also a growing confidence in experimenting with new instrumental colours. He uses the oboes for the first time as solo instruments and in a striking passage in the second solo section, the flute is accompanied by the oboes and horns alone. That the wind parts were still considered optional, however, can be seen in the assigning of these solo sections to the strings in the engraved parts. Whether this arrangement was the composer’s or the publisher’s it reflects the long tradition of performing concertos with very small forces, often one to a part. While this concerto could quite conceivably be performed in the domestic environment, the solo part demands a high degree of virtuosity. Once again the range extends to the top A, the highest possible note on the instrument and one that is not used very frequently in the eighteenth century. Although this is a brilliant concerto written for a brilliant flautist it obviously attracted sufficiently wide interest to be published in a second edition, by André, in 1803–04, barely a year after it first appeared under the imprint of Sieber fils. Like Gaveaux’s edition of Concerto No. 9 in E minor, published some years earlier, the flute part in Sieber’s edition is printed on two staves (with the basso part) possibly to assist the soloist in directing the ensemble.

The Concerto No. 11 in B minor is a problematic work in some respects. Some of the technical and structural procedures found in the work along with occasional details in the orchestration (wind instruments are included for the first time in the slow movement) argue that it is a late work, yet the musical ideas and their presentation fall well below the standard of recent works such as the Concerto No. 10 in D. Nonetheless it is unlikely, in Montgomery’s opinion, that it represents an early work held back from publication until after the composer’s death. It is more likely to reflect the impact Devienne’s deteriorating health had on his ability to compose, particularly in planning complex, large-scale musical structures. In spite of the work’s occasional deficiencies it is by no means without its finer moments, and the unusual choice of tonality suggests that Devienne’s desire to chart new territory was undimmed even if his ability to work at a high level was failing. Unlike a number of Devienne’s flute concertos which appeared in multiple editions, the present work was issued in only one edition, by André in 1806–09. André’s interest in the work is understandable given that since the turn of the century he had published editions of the Concertos Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 12 in addition to the present work. Like Concerto No. 12 this work was published posthumously, but André’s title indicates that it was published for the composer’s widow: ‘Onzième / CONCERTO / Pour la Flûte / PAR / F. DEVIENNE / Oeuvre posthume publié par sa Veuve / Prix f.3- / A OFFENBACH s/M, / chez Jean André’. This possibly indicates that he obtained a copy of it – perhaps even the autograph score – directly from Devienne’s widow. This seems very possible given André’s well-documented business dealings with Mozart’s widow Constanze.

Concerto No. 12 in A, described on the title page of its sole contemporary edition as Devienne’s twelfth and last flute concerto, is a more impressive work than its immediate predecessor but falls short of the standards set by a number of the earlier concertos, particularly Nos. 4, 7 and 10. Although the musical ideas are somewhat commonplace and Devienne reverts to constructing accompaniments that lack melodic distinction, Concerto No. 12 is not without its own distinctive character. The tonal palette is unusually wide and he makes extensive use of modulation for expressive purposes at times to quite remote keys. This causes him some problems in terms of structural unity although it undoubtedly represents a new and interesting attempt to inject an element of variety into the work. This idea is also explored at the macro level by casting the outer movements in different modes: the finale is in a minor rather than the expected A major. The wind instruments are once again deployed in the middle movement but his writing for them throughout the work is conservative and routine. The unevenness of the concerto marks this as a late work and one probably written when Devienne’s health was failing. Unlike Concerto No. 11, which is described as having being published posthumously for the composer’s widow, the present work makes no such claim indicating that André may have acquired his engraving copy from another source. With no performances of record it is difficult to know how widely Devienne’s last flute concerto was known prior to its publication between 1806 and 1809.

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


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