Program notes for the program Paris Salon

Paris in the early 1700s was home to a vibrant community of educated (and wealthy) members of the nobility, as well as a burgeoning bourgeoisie, and the cultural center of gravity gradually moved from the court at Versailles to the social élite of the city itself. Here, in private homes, the latest artistic and cultural trends were discussed, and one could hear not just the latest developments in French music, but also music from abroad, performed by both local and traveling musicians. A popular subject of the Parisian musical intelligentia was the question of which style of music was superior, the French or the Italian, with passionate proponents on each side, as well as those promoting the development of a mixed style, using the best from both traditions.

Jean-Marie Leclair, violinist and composer, spent some time in Italy, where he studied with Somis, a student of Corelli. Originally from Lyons, Leclair arrived in Paris in 1723, and made a name for himself as a virtuosic performer, and a composer of innovative and technically very challenging violin music, where he mixed elements of French style into Italianate sonatas. In his Deuxième Récréation de musique, scored for violins or flutes, he helpfully provides the note: Avertissement: Ce petit ouvrage ne peut être bien rendu que d’autant que les personnes qui l’exécuteront seront susceptible de gout, de finnesse dans le jeu, et de precision pour la mesure. (Take note: This little work can only be rendered well to the extent that the persons who perform it are receptive to taste, refined playing, and precision in timing.)

Born in Verona, Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco spent most of his life in the service of the Bavarian court, which at the time was allied with France. Military defeats forced the court into exile, finding refuge, among other places, in Paris. This experience significantly influenced Dall'Abaco's musical output; although still Corellian, his music shows quite a bit of French flair. His ouevre consists of six collections of sonatas and concerti, two of which were reprinted in Paris. The Op. 4 sonatas, in the Parisian print, were arranged by Nicolas Chédeville and sold in a version for Musette, Vielle, Flute traversiere et Haubois avec la Basse Continue, but we will hear the Sonata Op. 4 #8 today in its original form, as a duo for violin and cello.

The musette, a small bagpipe originally used for rustic dances, achieved popularity among a French nobility enamored with pastoral imagery. Chédeville, who joined the Paris Opera orchestra in 1720 as an oboist and musette player, was one of the most accomplished and influential composers, performers, makers, and teachers of the instrument. He also arranged music by other composers, as we saw with Dall'Abaco's Op. 4, but in Il Pastor Fido he went one step further and left his own name out of the picture, claiming Vivaldi as the composer (borrowing freely from Vivaldi's works, but also adding sections from his own pen). He succeeded well enough for the collection to make it into a 20th-century edition of Vivaldi's collected works. The final movement of the sonata on our program is based on the first movement of Vivaldi's violin concerto Op. 4 #6.

One of the first Classical European composers of African descent, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was the son of a French plantation owner on Guadalupe and his African slave/mistress. Brought to Paris as a child, Saint-Georges was given a nobleman's education, and his rise to fame came at first through his extraordinary fencing skills, thanks to which he was praised as the finest swordsman in Europe. Although much of his time was taken up by many events outside of the musical world, not the least being the upheavals of the French Revolution, he was still able to create an impressive legacy of musical compositions, including several works for the stage. To judge from his violin concerti, which he performed himself to critical acclaim, his mastery of the violin must have been exceptional as well; he also became the leader of two of the foremost orchestras in Paris, the Concert des Amateurs and the Concert de la Loge Olympique. His string quartets were among the first of the genre to be published in Paris, and the delightful sonata on our program comes from his 1er Œuvre de Clavecin: Trois sonates Pour le Clavecin Ou Forté Piano avec accompagnement de Violon Obligé, (Three sonatas for Harpsichord or Fortepiano with the accompaniment of a violin) written at a time when the harpsichord was beginning to give way to the fortepiano, predecessor of the modern piano.

Beginning his career as a viola da gamba player, Jean Barièrre turned to the cello and became one of the finest virtuosos in France of his day. He spent several years studying in Italy, and published four books of cello sonatas, many of which present very advanced technical challenges for the performer, freely mixing elements of French and Italian musical language. His death at the young age of 40 was lamented by music lovers: Le fameux Barrière, mort depuis peu, possedoit tout ce que l'on peut désirer … il n'y avoit guère d'exécution comme la sienne. (The famous Barrière, who died recently, possessed everything one could desire... hardly anyone could perform as well as he. (Pierre-Louis d'Aquin)

A program of French 18th-century music would not be complete without Jean-Philippe Rameau, the most influential French composer of the century, known both through his music and his writings on the theory of music. Originally from Dijon, he arrived in Paris in 1722, first gaining fame as a theorist through the printing of his Traité de l'harmonie, and eventually becoming one of the most successful composers for the Paris Opera of the century, collaborating among others with Voltaire as librettist. His works for solo harpsichord were circulated widely, and can be considered at least as influential as those of his predecessor Couperin. Rameau's own prefaces to the collections of solo keyboard music provide invaluable insights towards the performance practice of these beautiful and often highly virtuosic pieces.

Georg Philipp Telemann, the most famous German composer of his lifetime, held a lifelong admiration for French music, and it appears that his only travel outside of the German-speaking lands was a visit to Paris in 1737, at the invitation of several renowned Parisian musicians. When Telemann wrote his Nouveaux Quatuors en Six Suites (now known as the "Paris Quartets"), famously premiered in Paris to great acclaim by the finest musicians of the day, perhaps with Telemann himself at the harpsichord, his music was already known and loved in the city. Besides being perhaps the most prolific composer in history, Telemann remained an innovator throughout his long and fruitful career, and he was a strong proponent of the "mixed taste," combining elements from several European traditions, mainly the French and Italian. In chamber music, he certainly contributed to the already popular form of the trio sonata, but he also went far beyond that in scoring, publishing works for up to 6 instruments with continuo, especially favoring the quartet consisting of three instruments and continuo, often combining winds and strings. The two collections of Quadri and Nouveaux Quatuors, for flute, violin, viola da gamba or cello, and harpsichord, are generally considered among the very finest of his chamber works, and we are delighted to present to you the beautiful a minor quartet from the collection of "New Quartets."

© Boel Gidholm