Les Maîtres du violon: The Rise of the French Violin Sonata
Join us for an intimate, moving, and informative evening of baroque music on period instruments! Guts Baroque Duo performs a house concert in Tustin, CA on October 13th at 6:00pm, presenting a program of virtuosic French violin sonatas.
Cellist-gambist John Ott reveals the history connecting the composers and performers, welcoming you behind-the-scenes as you take in both the music and its context.
Right around the beginning of the eighteenth century, a change was beginning to happen in the music of France. The graceful dance suite of Lully’s time, so beloved by the late Louis XIV, was slowly being supplanted by the Italian sonata. The great Italian composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli had enriched and expanded the capabilities of the violin. His collections of sonatas had become staples in the repertoire of every violinist in Europe, and his students had become the dominant violinists of Italy. Many French violinists and other musicians traveled to Italy to study with the great masters, then returned to France, bringing with them Italian aesthetics and musical forms. As a result, the solo music written for violin gradually shifted towards the Corellian sonata, while still retaining the sublimely intricate and delicate ideas of the French Baroque. This program shows the gradual development of the genre of the French violin sonata.
Sunday, October 13th, 2019, 6:00pm
Tustin, CA (address provided with RSVP)
Program to include:
Rebel Sonate 2 in G from Sonates à violon seul
Francoeur Sonate 2 in e from Sonates à violon seul, Livre I
Bouvard Sonate 1 in B-flat from Sonates à violon seul, Livre I1
De Machy Suite 4 in G Major from Pieces de violle
Leclair Sonate 3 in Bb Major from Premier Livre de Sonates
Jacquet de la Guerre Sonate 2 in D from Sonates pour le viollon
Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) was the son of a singer, employed in the French court. He studied violin and composition with Jean-Baptiste Lully, who soon granted him a position in the Opera and in the 24 Violons du Roy. He soon became the concertmaster of both groups. He dedicated many of his sonatas to his powerful patrons, including a Tombeau for his teacher Lully, who died tragically of gangrene in 1687. Upon the death of Louis XIV, Rebel gained the title of court composer for Louis XV, and soon after directed the Concert Spirituel, a concert series of sacred music for performance during Lent, when the Opera was closed. As Rebel grew older, he gave his positions as a court musician to his son François, also a talented violinist. He edited and published his compositions in collections later in life.
His second collection of violin pieces, published in 1713, was surprisingly forward-looking, resembling more the Italian sonatas of the late Baroque than the dance suites of his French contemporaries. They feature four individual movements which are not dances, each a complete idea. Today’s program features the second of this set, in G major.
François Francoeur (1698-1787) was born into a musical family, as his father Joseph played bass violin (cello) in the 24 violons du roi. He and his older brother Louis both excelled at the violin, and quickly gained spots in the Opera, in the Musique de la Chambre du Roi and in the 24 violons. There he met and started working with François Rebel, the son of Jean-Féry. The two violinists became close friends and worked together for their entire careers until Rebel’s death in 1775. By 1739 Francoeur was the master of the Opera, and he and Rebel joint-composed several operas. Though his career at the Opera was full of major successes and major failures, his work was recognized to the point where Louis XV raised him to the rank of nobility in 1764. He continued composing for the Opera until his retirement following the death of his friend Rebel.
Francoeur published two books of violin sonatas in 1720, right when he received the royal privilege to publish music. His sonatas are more in keeping with the French style, featuring five dance movements rather than the typical four of an Italian sonata da chiesa. Today’s program features the second sonata of op.1. It contains a dark Adagio, an Allemande, a Sarabande, a Rondeau and a Presto last movement.
François Bouvard (1683-1760) as a child was a very gifted singer, and sang in the Opera in Paris from a young age until his voice broke. After that he spent some time training in Italy before returning to Paris as a composer. He wrote two operas and a number of smaller publications before returning to Italy in 1711. Though it is unknown what he did there, he apparently became a count of St. John Lateran, a title he referred to in his subsequent publications. By 1723 he returned to Paris, where he continued publishing music until 1750. After that he fell into ill health and died a pauper.
Bouvard’s 8 violin sonatas were published in 1723, upon his return from Italy. Similar to Leclair’s earlier that year, Bouvard’s sonatas show a mix of Italian and French styles. His movements have Italian names but French delicacy and character, and there are five of them, labeled Adagio, Largo, Allegro, Largo and Prestissimo.
Sieur de Machy (fl. 2nd half of 17th century) had very little information about him survive, and even his first name is unknown. All that is currently known about him comes from the title page of his one published collection, Pièces de violle, en musique et en tablature (1685), and from the 1692 treatise by Jean Rousseau. Sieur de Machy lived in Paris and studied viol with the famous Nicolas Hotman, one of the first French masters of the viol, alongside Jean de Sainte-Colombe. However, while Sainte-Colombe was an innovator in developing new and better techniques for playing the viol, de Machy was a traditionalist, basing his viol technique on that of the lute. Rousseau, who studied viol with both in turn, reports a disagreement over the placement of the left thumb that caused a falling-out between the two. Sainte-Colombe was said to have won, as his students, in particular Marin Marais, became the leading players of the viol in France.
Machy’s Pièces de violle, en musique et en tablature (1685) was the first published collection of viol music in France. As the title suggests, four of the pieces were written in music notation and the other four were written in lute tablature, a style of writing music that visually represents the strings and frets used to play the notes. The pieces are organized into dance suites, which were the most common form of French instrumental music in the late 17th and early 18th century, and represent the stile brisé (broken), characterized by chords played one note at a time. Tonight’s program features the fourth suite, in G major, the last one written in music notation.
Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) was born in Lyons, and trained as a child in violin, dancing and lacemaking. As a young man, he traveled to Turin, where he took lessons with the great Italian violinist Giovanni Battista Somis. He traveled to Paris at least twice to publish collections of violin sonatas. Finally in 1733 he was appointed ordinaire de la musique du roi to Louis XV. By 1737, though, he quarreled with another violinist, Pierre Guignon, and left the court rather than having to work under him. He was quickly hired by the court at Orange in the Netherlands, where he spent five years before returning to Paris. He then spent the next few years in the service of the Duc de Gramont, a former pupil. In 1764 he was murdered, apparently by his nephew, violinist Guillame-François Vial. His legacy remains as one of the first great violinists and composers for the violin in France.
His violin sonatas are influenced heavily by those of Arcangelo Corelli and his Italian contemporaries, but with a distinctive French sound, mixing the two styles into what would become the standard for French violin writing in the early 18thcentury. Today’s program features the third sonata from Leclair’s op. 1 collection, published in 1723.
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) was born to the Jacquet family, a family of musicians. By the age of 5 she was adopted into the household of Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s most famous mistress, and sang and played harpsichord for the court until 1684, when she left the court to marry the organist Marin de la Guerre. She was given the Royal Privilege to compose and publish music, a rare honor in France, and was the first French woman to compose operas. She also published two volumes of cantatas, two volumes of keyboard music and one book each of solo and trio sonatas for the violin. Her works are revolutionary and forward-thinking, combining the Italian styles of her teachers with the tastes of the French high Baroque.
Her six violin sonatas were published inside her second volume of keyboard pieces, in 1707. They are some of the earliest and most celebrated French violin solo pieces. They are composed in the Italian style, with different movements with contrasting tempos, rather than in the French suite of dances that was popular at the time. Sonata 2 is in D major, though it freely changes from major to minor between movements. One of the shortest sonatas of this set, it has four movements, Presto, Largo, Presto, and Presto.
Finding a Voice: Music from the Streets of Venice to the Courts of France
Sunday November 17th, 4:00pm, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Glendale CA.
A lively concert of violin sonatas by 17th-century Italian and French composers, showcasing the distinct regional styles and historically-accurate violin bows used to perform them. Dazzling virtuosity of decorated melodies gives way to flowing lyricism, the height of French baroque music under the Sun King, Louis XIV. Sylvia Schwartz, baroque violin, and John Ott, viola da gamba.
More about the Music
Our concert begins on the streets of Venice, around 1620. The city is prosperous and happy, fed by the riches that come in via the Silk Road, or by sea. Aside from the nobility, there is a rapidly-growing class of wealthy, educated craftsmen and specialists pursuing independent careers. The music is vibrant and virtuosic, and it is everywhere. It echoes from the Basilica de San Marco, where the great Claudio Monteverdi presides over as great an orchestra as has ever existed before. It resounds from the halls of the Ducal Palace, and from the churches, and from the companies of piffari (marching bands of wind and brass instruments) parading down the streets. Even more so, it spills to the streets from the homes of amateur and aspiring musicians, who now have access to this music through publishing.
Though many published editions of vocal works, especially madrigals, had been printed for generations, collections of instrumental music were comparatively rare. But Venice suddenly had a wealth of great musicians plying their trade, and it was lucrative to compose a collection of music and sell it to a publisher. Many of these collections continued to be printed and distributed throughout Europe long after their composers’ death. These printed works laid out the foundation for many instrumental music forms, including the solo violin sonata.
In 1617, Biagio Marini, one of the lead violinists of San Marco, published his first collection of instrumental works, which featured La Gardana, the first piece ever published for violin and continuo. In 1621 the itinerant wind player Dario Castello, also a musician at San Marco, published the first of two collections of instrumental music, which feature the first solo sonatas for treble instrument and continuo. By the 1640s Venetian publishers also printed music from composers outside Venice, like the violinists Giovanni Battista Fontana from Brescia and Marco Uccellini from Modena, who pushed the violin sonata to higher levels of virtuosity.
Life in Italy was often rife with intrigue, and sometimes that spilled over into music. In the 1660s, Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli had to flee justice after killing a famous singer in a duel, finally taking his career to France and Spain. His collection of violin sonatas published in 1660 became his last. Another frequent fugitive from justice was Alessandro Stradella. After establishing himself as a composer in Rome in 1676, he had to flee to Venice after becoming involved in a scheme to marry off an “ugly old” noblewoman for money. He later eloped to Turin with a young woman he was supposed to be teaching, the mistress of the Duke of Venice. The Duke caught up with him in Turin, and after ordering him to marry the girl, had him stabbed and left for dead. He recovered, composing music all the while, and finished his career in Genoa, where after writing a few successful operas, he was finally assassinated in 1682. During his short career, he left behind many works, including collections of sinfonias for one or two violins and continuo.
One composer whose life was free of scandal was Isabella Leonarda, “la Musa novarese” (the muse from Novara). She joined a convent at age 16 and spent her whole life there, writing and performing music. Her compositions gained her notoriety enough that she was one of the first women to ever be published, and the first woman ever to publish sonatas.
The influence of the Italians extended to Vienna, where the Hapsburg courts sought the best musicians of Europe, such as the great violinist Antonio Bertali, originally from Verona, who arrived in 1631. He shared the Italian style of sonata writing with his pupils, including the native Austrian, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Both of them experimented freely with common ostinato (repeating) bass lines, writing elaborate flourishes, variations and divisions over these unchanging note patterns in the bass.
At the turn of the 18th century we arrive in France, in the court of Louis XIV, the Sun King. Italianate sonatas have arrived in France, and a new generation of French composers are exploring how to fit them into the delicate, refined and ornamented French style. Key among these composers are Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, once a child prodigy adopted by the court, and now a successful composer, one of a select few granted the Royal privilege to publish music, and Marin Marais, master of the viola da gamba and protege of the great Jean Baptiste Lully, the founder of the French Opera.
Biagio Marini (1594-1663) was born in Brescia to a musical family. In 1615, he gained a position as a violinist in the orchestra at the Basilica San Marco in Venice, under Claudio Monteverdi. Soon after his acclaim as a violinist and composer gained him court appointments all over Italy and as far north as Düsseldorf. During all this time he composed many volumes of vocal and instrumental music, which were published in Venice. His instrumental music is particularly noteworthy, as his work helped form the solo and trio sonata genres that would pervade the Baroque period.
His op.1 collection Affetti Musicali, published in 1617, contains music written for various instruments and continuo, including the first pieces for one violin and continuo, La Ponte, La Gardana and La Orlandina. They are called Sinfonias by Marini but they set the groundwork for the genre of solo sonatas. La Gardana (the Garden), though it has only one section, shows off the violin’s ability to play fast notes and divisions.
Dario Castello (fl. 1621-1629) is only known from two volumes of instrumental music, Sonate Concertate books 1 and 2, published in Venice in 1621 and 1629, and from the little information on the title pages of the original and 1641 reprint of these collections. According to the title pages, he played a wind instrument, led a company of piffari, the Venetian equivalent of a marching band, and by 1641 played at San Marco. There is no record of his employment at San Marco, so that may be hyperbole on the part of the publisher. Despite his current obscurity, his two collections of music sold very well, and were widely distributed throughout Europe. Castello did not publish any music after 1629, and it is speculated that he may have perished in the black plague outbreak in 1630-31.
Sonate Concertate book 1 contains the first two datable solo instrumental sonatas ever published. Written for unspecified solo instrument, these sonatas feature multiple sections with changing tempo and meter, shaping the way Italianate sonatas would be composed for a century. Tonight’s program features the first of the two, Sonata Prima, in A minor.
Giovanni Battista Fontana (1589-1630) is only known from a few documents and a 1641 posthumous publication of his music, Sonate a 1. 2. 3. per il violino, o cornetto, fagotto chitarone, violoncino o simile altro instromento. From this we know he was born in Brescia, and worked as a violinist in Venice, Rome and Padua. Unfortunately, he died in the black plague outbreak of 1630-31.
His published collection is made up largely of solo violin sonatas, one of the first such collections. Tonight’s program features the third such sonata. It opens with the canzona rhythm, a rhythm pattern common at the beginning of many vocal and instrumental works dating back to the Renaissance. The violin writing is very virtuosic, exploring the violin’s ability to play divisions, runs of very fast notes connecting the notes of a melody.
Marco Uccellini (1603-1680) studied in Assisi, likely with Giovanni Battista Buonamente, one of the great violin masters of the time. In 1641 he was employed by the Este court in Modena, where he became a close confidant of the d’Este family. He stayed there until 1665, when he gained a similar position in the court in Padua. While there he composed several operas, ballets and vocal works, but they are all lost to history. His collections of instrumental music survive, as they were published and distributed widely.
His violin sonatas were very innovative, stretching the range of the violin to the upper positions and featuring rapid passagios. Another development is that each new section finishes before the next begins, creating the feel of a multi-movement work. Tonight’s program features the fourth sonata of his op. 4 collection Sonate, Arie, Correnti. This sonata is subtitled detta Hortensia virtuosa, possibly referring to the skilled Roman orator from the first century B.C., who passionately argued that women should not be taxed if they are not allowed to hold public office.
Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli (fl. 1660-1669) was a Tuscan violinist employed by Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in the 1660’s, where he published at least three collections of instrumental music. Since the first two are labeled Opera 3 and 4, if can be assumed that at least two prior collections were published. However, his career in Vienna came to an end when he murdered a singer, Giovanni Marquett, during an argument. He fled to Spain, and all subsequent record of him is lost.
La Stella (the star) is the first sonata in his op. 3 collection from 1660, the oldest that survives. Similar to Uccellini’s, his sonata utilizes the higher positions and greater virtuosity that was developing in the violinists of Italy.
Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) was born to a noble family, and his father was a member of a chivalric order, the Cavalieri di San Stefano. After his father’s death he moved to Rome and served as a page in the Lante palace in Rome, where he also started composing. His music was popular and well-received, but legal troubles led him to flee Rome for Venice in 1677. He quickly became mixed up in scandal again, leaving Venice with the mistress of his powerful patron, Alvise Contarini. He survived one assassination attempt by Contarini’s henchmen, then left for Genoa, where he continued both to compose and to become involved in scandal. In 1682 he was stabbed to death, though the cause is unclear.
Stradella’s music is primarily vocal, including several operas and oratorios, sacred and secular cantatas and smaller works, but he did compose 12 Sinfonie for Violin and Basso Continuo, never published but preserved in manuscript, many of which have obbligato basso parts written for a cello or other bowed bass. Tonight’s program features the third of this collection, in e minor.
Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704) was born in Novara, where she spent her whole life. At age 16 she entered the Collegio de S Ursola, a convent. By 1658 she was the music teacher and composer, and her works were popular enough that they began to be published in 1665. By 1676 she was mother superior, and by 1693 she became madre vicara for the order. During her lifetime, over 200 of her musical works were published. Most were motets and sacred vocal works, but in 1693 she published a collection of sonatas, which were in fact the first sonatas published by a woman.
Leonarda’s opus 16, Sonate a 1, 2, 3 e 4 Istromenti (1693), is a collection of sonatas, mostly for two violins, violone and continuo. The 12th and final sonata, however, is a solo sonata, and is perhaps the most interesting harmonically. Though published after Corelli’s op.5 violin sonatas, this sonata does not use the sonata da chiesa form made popular by Corelli’s collection. Instead it closely follows the older sonata form used by the previous generation.
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680) was born in Scheibbs, Lower Austria. He spent his life working for the Hapsburg courts in Vienna and Prague, as a violinist and composer under the tutelage of Antonio Bertali. He attained a close relationship with Emperor Leopold I, who gave him a title and the position of Kapellmeister in 1679. Schmelzer was the first native Austrian to attain this position. Unfortunately he died the following year in an outbreak of the bubonic plague.
Schmelzer was a significant composer of instrumental music in Austria. His compositions developed both the Suite and the Sonata forms of 17th-century German and Austrian music. Though he is mostly known for trio sonatas, he wrote six Sonatae unarum fidium in 1664 for violin and continuo. Tonight’s program includes the fourth sonata from this set, in D major. Typical of the 17th-century sonata, it features a number of contrasting sections. Several different dance forms and a freer fantasia section are united by a repeating stepwise ground bass line.
Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) was born in Verona, where he was trained in violin from Stefano Bernardi. In 1622 he was granted a position as a violinist in the Hapsburg court in Vienna, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Besides playing the violin, he was frequently called on to compose, and in 1649 became maestro di cappella. During his time there he oversaw the next generation of developing violinists in Austria, including Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.
Though he is most famous for his vocal music, which served as a model for later composers, Bertali composed one undated Ciaccona for solo violin and basso continuo. Using the popular ground bass pattern of the chaconne, he wrote a set of variations exploring different rhythms, technique, ranges, and even cross-relations between major and minor keys. As the original is quite long, tonight’s performance will feature an edited version.
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) was born to the Jacquet family, a famous family of musicians. By the age of 5 she was adopted into the household of Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s most famous mistress, and sang and played harpsichord for the court until 1684, when she left the court to marry the organist Marin de la Guerre. She was given the Royal Privilege to compose and publish music, a rare honor in France, and was the first French woman to compose operas. She also published two volumes of cantatas, two volumes of keyboard music and a book of trio sonatas. Her works are revolutionary and forward-thinking, combining the Italian styles of her teachers with the tastes of the French high Baroque.
Her six violin sonatas were published along with her second volume of keyboard pieces, in 1707. They are some of the earliest and most celebrated French violin sonatas. They are composed in the Italian style, with many movements strung together with contrasting tempo, rather than in the French suite of dances that was popular at the time. Sonata 1 is in D minor, though it freely changes from minor to major between movements.
Marin Marais (1656-1728) was a gifted virtuoso on the viola da gamba, and one of the most important composers of the French Baroque era. He studied viola da gamba with Jean de Sainte-Colombe, and by age 19 he was playing with the Opera orchestra in Paris under Jean-Baptiste Lully. He soon started composing, under the tutelage of Lully, and was appointed as a royal chamber musician to Louis XIV. By 1690 he also conducted and composed for the Opera, a post he inherited after the premature death of Lully. Marais had a great reputation as a teacher, and many of the next generation of viol players, such as Charles Dollé, Louis de Caix-d’Hervelois, Jacques Morel, and Marais’s son Roland are believed to have studied with him.
Sonate à la Marlesienne comes from the collection La Gamme et Autres Morceaux de Symphonie, for violin, viol and harpsichord, published in 1723. It is written as a suite of dances and character pieces, alternating between slow and fast movements.
We are pleased to offer house concerts through Groupmuse. Check out their website to learn more about hosting concerts and how you can invite us to serenade you and your friends and neighbors! Click here to see our performer page.