About this Recording
8.573575 - LHOYER, A. de: Guitar Trio and Quartet Works (Complete) (Skogmo, Franke, Werninge)
English  French 

Antoine de Lhoyer (1768–1852)
Complete Works for Guitar Trio and Quartet


Beethoven’s French contemporary Antoine de Lhoyer, royalist and professional soldier, was born in Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne. He died in Paris at the age of 83, two and a half years after Chopin, during the last days of the short-lived Second Republic. Not much is known about him, his bourgeois origins, nor with whom he studied—surprisingly, Fétis’s Biographie universelle from the 1830s made no attempt to get first-hand information. One late-19th century source noted, however, that his teachers were Paris-based. Around 1800 he was considered (by the Spaniard B. Vidal, no mean executant himself) to be ‘the best guitar player in Europe’, a reference he treasured and was to often invoke. Chronicling ‘the stages of a tormented and restless existence that was deeply affected by the events of European history and irreparably upset by the end of the Ancien Régime’ (Lorenzo Micheli, 2007), his military, musical and survival travels took him from Versailles through Germany and the Hapsburg lands to the Romanov court, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Around 1820, in his early fifties, he married one Marie-Antoinette Leclerc, twenty years his junior, with whom he had a son and three daughters.

Records, letters and personally written petitions held by the French Military Archives in Vincennes give us an idea of Lhoyer’s career between 1815 and 1836. However, as Erik Stenstadvold points out (2003), ‘these documents are somewhat problematic as a source for his activity prior to 1815’. For this period, our information is sketchier, contradictory even. Lhoyer’s life was inextricably bound up with the fortunes of the Bourbon monarchy. Anti-Revolutionary, despising of Napoleon, loyal to King, he was the supreme royalist. From 1789 to 1791—barely into his twenties, witnessing the end of the old order, the dawn of modern history—he served in Louis XVI’s elite Gardes du Corps du Roi based in Versailles. Between 1791 (when he left France without permission) and 1800 he enlisted in sundry resistance groups and emigré field units, including the Armée de Condé/Armée des Princes (1791–92, 1799–1800). From 1794 to 1797 he aligned himself with Franz II, last of the Holy Roman Emperors, fighting unsuccessful Habsburg campaigns against the French (Napoleon entering the arena in 1796). We may presume his trusted guitar went with him, as with other soldier-players—Fernando Sor, François de Fossa and Leonhard von Call most famously. ‘Music does a great deal to prepare the spirit for battle’ wrote a Polish lancer before Borodino (1812). Likewise to sooth mind and body afterwards.

Soldiering and skirmishing, playing and composing, a deserter tramping battle-torn empires, was largely the order of the decade. According to Gerber’s Neues historischbiographisches Lexicon (1812–14), some time before 1800, Lhoyer belonged to a French theatrical troupe employed by Prince Henry of Prussia, whose palace in Rheinsberg, northwest of Berlin, was a centre for music, philosophy and the arts. He had connections too in Hamburg, home to French royalists on the run, with the publication there of a set of IV Adagios in 1797, followed by a Grande Sonate, Op. 12 and Six Romances, Op. 14 two years later, and a string-accompanied two-movement Guitar Concerto, Op. 16, in 1802. He briefly made the city his home around 1800.

At the end of 1802—having compromised his politics, gone back to his birthplace to give a concert in aid of the local poor as ‘unequivocal proof of his civic sense’, and had an application for amnesty granted by the French republican authorities—Lhoyer set off for St Petersburg. Here, under Alexander I, the romanticism of the new century was in spring bud. Boïeldieu commanded at the Opéra Française. Rode’s violin dazzled audiences. John Field lazed at the fortepiano, his liberated life-style—consorting with the nobility, indulging in champagne and cigars, admiring the fairer sex, relishing Parisian pornography—shared by more than a few. Whatever tempted Lhoyer to exchange the lamps of Hamburg for the chandeliers of St Petersburg—was he ‘personally recruited by the Tsar’s agent’ (Stenstadvold)?—his reward was a high position at court, purportedly paid for by the Russian treasury. He was a favourite of the Tsaritsa, Elizabeth Alexeievna (Princess Louise of Baden), who, when he left Russia in 1812, gave him a 5,500 roubles ‘handshake’ (exceeding Boïeldieu’s annual salary as court composer). The popularity of the guitar around the royal houses and boudoirs of Europe, often in preference to keyboard or harp, is well attested. Lhoyer published a number of works in St Petersburg (1803–12), several inscribed to members of the nobility, among them Alexander Ivanovich Count Osterman-Tolstoy, the Governor of St Petersburg.

Coincident with the unravelling of Napoleon’s Russian invasion, Lhoyer returned to Paris in 1812. Here he met Carulli (with whom he not only made music but also contributed ‘to a book of frivolous songs and poetry connected to the pleasures of the table’). With the abdication of Napoleon in 1814 and the restoration of the monarchy, he resumed army life in the Gardes de la Manche, that same year (29th June) being knighted into the Order of St Louis. His military days, however, were far from secure (he was into his late forties). We read of suspensions of duty, half-pay compensations, and postings to remote places. Potentially the best transfer came in March 1826—but only as Lieutenant du Roi to a garrison town in the north of Corsica. With the 1830 July Revolution he was relieved of this position and given a six-year pension. Pleading the case of four dependent children and no other income, appeals to have it extended were refused, drawing his military file to a close in 1836. His remaining years are vague. Having settled in Aix-en-Provence around 1831, family lore has it that by the close of the decade he’d emigrated to Algeria, Louis Philippe’s flourishing new colony wrested from the Ottomans. His final months, 1851–52, found him back in Paris—a campaigner come home, farewelling old haunts, breathing in again the skies and frosts of childhood.

In the early 1820s Lhoyer was hailed among France’s leading guitarists, along with Sor, Carulli and Carcassi. By the end of the ’40s nobody knew who he was. Did he still play? Did he teach? Did friends help him out? Certainly, it seems, struggling with the hardships of life and age, with the vagaries of a market place that had always catered to whim and fashion, he no longer composed. And hadn’t for twenty-five years. Not since the publication in Paris of the Grand Duo for Violin and Guitar, Op. 45, in 1826.

‘What instrument so completely allows us to live, for a time, in a world of our own imagination?’ (The Giulianiad, 1833). Sets of variations, romances and dances feature inevitably in Lhoyer’s catalogue. But, more unexpectedly for his day, and supporting Micheli’s view that ‘we can suppose for him a serious and in-depth musical training’, are the numerous high-quality sonata-based designs we discover. The present album brings together his chamber output for three and four guitars—manly, elegantly voiced virtuoso music from the era of Waterloo and Navarino, belonging less to the battlefield than the intimacy of salon evenings in the company of old comrades, a bottle of cognac to hand.

The G major Trio Concertant, Op. 29 and C major Second Trio, Op. 42 were published in Paris around 1814 and 1826 respectively. Equality of texture is a defining parameter, with a free exchange and dialogue between instruments. In the C major the exposition/reprise codettas of the opening moderato and the homophony of the dominant-key Romance provide especially vibrant examples, the one racingly brilliant, the other dreamily lyrical. This doesn’t preclude the first guitar from having a starring rôle in certain key dramatic spots. Notably, the G major: development of the first movement; cadenza of the D major adagio; closing variation of the finale. The C major: first movement retransition—a virile flourish of ascending broken octaves leading into the tutti unisons of the recapitulation; the refrain of the (Russified) Polonaise finale.

Shared structural features include, externally, the placing second of the relative-minor menuetti (minuet-scherzos); and, internally, the device of a bar of timekeeping octaves to open the development sections of the first movements.

Claimed to be the earliest guitar quartet in the repertory, the Air varié et dialogue, dedicated in later editions to one Madame Alexandrine Rougeon, was first published in October–December 1813 in the Parisian Journal des Troubadours, co-edited by Carulli. Regarding the work and its democratic scoring (the classical string quartet style applied) as a ‘representation of a conversation among friends’, Matanya Ophee (2003) thinks of its (unidentified) theme belonging to what he calls a ‘tune family’.

Said melody, in G major, andante, is prefaced by a slow introduction in the minor. Then come five variations, each rounded off with the same ‘coda’ in the minor—creating an unusual design with repeating interludes not unlike the one the young Chopin was to adopt in his Là ci darem la mano Variations, Op. 2 (1827). Different members of the quartet take the lead, first and second most prominently. A gallant Walze in the Austrian manner crowns the set, its feu d’artifice ‘coda’ a maggiore blaze of first guitar virtuosity and tight tutti chords.

This recording uses the new Jens Franke/Marta González Bordonaba edition of the Second Trio (Schott London, 2015). All repeats, including those on da capo, are observed.

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