BAR-OCT, 12 Baroque Masterpieces for Piccolo (Debora Rosti)



Bodinus, Boismortier, Braun, Blavet, Delusse, Mahut, Pepusch, Quantz: Bar-Oct, 12 pieces for piccolo from baroque repertoire

(Arr. by Debora Rosti) DV 20089 36 Pages


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(b Thionville23 Dec 1689d Roissy-en-Brie28 Oct 1755). French composer. He spent his childhood in Thionville, and went to Metz about 1700. In 1713 he was receveur de la régie royale des tabacsfor the Roussillon troops at Perpignan. On 7 November 1720 he married Marie Valette, the daughter of the city treasurer Guillaume Valette. He remained in Perpignan until about 1723, when he settled in Paris. In September 1724 he took out a royal privilege to engrave his works and began the process of publishing them, which ceased only on his death. From 1743 to 1745 he was sous-chef and then chef d’orchestre at the Foire St Laurent, and also, in 1745, at the Foire St Germain. He was a prolific composer of very profitable works, which according to the Mercure de France (October 1747) brought him over 500,000 écus, enabling him to live a life of fame and luxury without holding any official post. His Christmas motet Fugit nox (now lost), on themes from noëls, was popular at the Concert Spirituel from 1743 to 1770, with L.-C. Daquin and C.-B. Balbastre at the organ. His pastorale Daphnis et Chloé, to a libretto by Pierre Laujon, was well received when it was performed at the Opéra in September 1747, and was even parodied at the Comédie-Italienne under the title of Les bergers de qualité when it was revived on 4 May 1752. After his death his daughter continued to sell his available works, and also published several more.

Boismortier wrote a great deal of music. Many of his compositions, intended for amateur ensembles, require only average technical skill and envisage various possible combinations of instruments, as witness the Sonates pour une flûte et un violon par accords sans basse op.51 and the sonatas for two bassoons and four flutes. He also composed for such fashionable instruments of the time as the musette, hurdy-gurdy and transverse flute. This last was his favourite instrument, and he considerably extended its repertory. In his instrumental pieces he devoted equal attention to the various parts, which can consist simply of a series of imitations; in his earliest sonatas for keyboard and flute, op.91 (c1741–2), the two instruments are complementary, whereas it was usual in such works at the time for the harpsichord to dominate. Boismortier adopted the three-movement form favoured by Italian composers. He wrote concertos for many different instruments. Some, such as his VI concertos pour cinq flûtes traversières ou autres instruments sans basse op.15 (1727), are for unusual ensembles. These are not so much solo concertos as works in the French style of François Couperin’s Concerts royaux (1722) and Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert (1741).

Boismortier’s cantatas and motets skilfully mingle French and Italian elements, with ternary form dominating in the airs. The rather lightweight anonymous texts of his cantatas are typical of the period. He was most at ease in short forms, and after 1738 followed fashion by abandoning the cantata in favour of the cantatille. His agreeable melodies were designed to please the taste of his audience, and the virtuoso vocal writing in his motets is strongly influenced by the Italian style. In his stage works he collaborated with the great librettists of the period: Charles-Antoine Le Clerc de La Bruère (who also wrote the libretto of Rameau’s Dardanus), Pierre Laujon and Charles-Simon Favart. He composed to suit the taste of the time, as in his ballet-comique on a fashionable theme, Don Quichotte chez la duchesse, in which the music does not attempt any local Japanese colour but consists of lively, facile melodies.

Boismortier’s pedagogical works (tutors for the flute and the descant viol) are apparently lost, but the fact that he wrote them is evidence of a didactic concern also shown in such instrumental works as his Diverses pièces pour une flûte traversière seule … propres pour ceux qui commencent à jouer de cet instrument op.22 (1728), and his Quinque sur l’octave, ou Dictionnaire harmonique (1734).

Boismortier’s music demonstrates great facility, and one regrets that he wrote so few works on a large scale. It is difficult not to agree with La Borde, who said: ‘He will always be regarded by professionals as a good harmonist … anyone who will take the trouble to excavate this abandoned mine might find enough gold dust there to make up an ingot’.