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 on the concert series at St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale on Sunday November 17th at 4:00pm, 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, November 17th, 2019, 4:00pm
1020 N Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91202
Suggested Donation $15, none turned away for lack of funds. Advance seat reservations and donations available by clicking below or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006 (option 1 for ticket agent, event number 4431427)
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.
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