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CD reviews

"à madame - divertissement pour Adélaïde"

Olivier Baumont, harpsichord; Julien Chauvin, violin

rec: July 20 - 22, 2015, Versailles, Château (appartements de Mesdames)
Aparté - AP138 (© 2015) (52'23")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Claude-Bénigne BALBASTRE (1724-1799): Sonata I in G (aria gratioso) [3]; Josse-François-Joseph BENAUT (1741-1794): Airs du ballet et Ouverture de Castor & Pollux arrangés pour le clavecin; Jean-Baptiste CARDONNE (1730-after 1792): Sonata VI in F; Antoine DAUVERGNE (1713-1797): Sonata XII in a minor, op. 2,12 [1]; Jean-Pierre GUIGNON (1702-1774): Les Sauvages (Rameau), arr for 2 violins [2]; Simon SIMON (c1735-c1802): Premier Concert in A [op. 3] [5]; Sonata IV in a minor, op. 2,4 (maestoso) [4]

Sources: [1] Antoine Dauvergne, Sonates a Violon seul avec la Basse continue, op. 2, c1739; [2] div, Pièces de différents auteurs à deux violons amplifiés et doublés, 1746; [3] Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, Pièces de clavecin en Sonates, 1749 [ms]; Simon Simon, [4] Quatre Sonates & Deux Concertos pour le Clavecin, op. 2, 1770 [5] Six Concerts pour le Clavecin avec accompagnement de Violon ad libitum, op. 3, 1770

The role of music in people's lives has changed considerably in the course of history. Today it is mostly an ornament in public life; in the Netherlands, where I live, the parliamentary year is opened without any music, except the national anthem. That would have been completely unthinkable in the time of Bach and Handel. Today music is a hobby, in their time it was a natural part of public life and as a result a fixed part of the education of any member of royalty or aristocracy.

Many composers were active as teachers of princes and princesses and children of aristocrats. They also often dedicated compositions to members of the higher echelons of society, who mostly were able to play an instrument. The present disc is devoted to music which was written for the children of Louis XV of France, or at least played in their chambers. Between 1727 and 1737 eight daughters were born to Louis XV and his wife Marie Leszcynska. Some of them died during childhood, and only two survived the French Revolution. One of the latter was Adélaïde, the "madame" to whom the title of the present disc refers; she was born in 1732 and died in 1800.

The princesses all received music lessons from various composers; it seems that they all had some musical talent. They lived in Versailles, and the recording took place in the château, in the Grand Cabinet of Madame Victoire - younger sister of Adélaïde - on the ground floor of the north wing, on two instruments from the castle's collections.

The first composer in the programme is Simon Simon, who was a harpsichordist by profession and a pupil of François Couperin. In 1766 he was appointed harpsichord teacher to the Children of France. His extant oeuvre is rather small. In 1761 he published a collection of Pièces de clavecin as his Op. 1. Some of these pieces have a part for the violin. The combination of obbligato harpsichord with violin was quite popular at the time, and inspired by the famous set of six sonatas for harpsichord and violin op. 3 (1734) of Jean-Jacques Cassanéa de Mondonville. In 1770 Simon's Op. 2 was published, a set of four sonatas and two concertos for harpsichord and violin. Olivier Baumont and Julien Chauvin recorded one movement from the Sonata IV from this collection. It is a mystery to me, why they did not record the complete sonata, considering the short playing time of this disc. The Op. 3 dates from the same year and was dedicated to Adélaïde, as was the Op. 2; according to the preface the Op. 3 was commissioned by the princess. It is a collection of six concertos for harpsichord and violin. However, the violin part is ad libitum, meaning that it can also be omitted. Its role is confined to adding some colour and dynamic shading to the upper part of the harpsichord, but it has no independent melodic material. It comes in the then common form of three movements: fast - slow - fast. Pieces like these were clearly intended for amateurs. The booklet quotes the Mercure de France, stating that "these Concerts are easy to perform, & the amateur will be able to play them with even more pleasure in that the author strove for a gentle & pleasant modulation, & melody rather than painful work of a highbrow & sophisticated composition".

The next composer in the programme is Simon's composition teacher Antoine Dauvergne, who was educated as a violinist and studied composition with Rameau. In 1739 he was appointed violinist in the chambre du roi and joined the orchestra of the Opéra in 1744. He also acted as composition teacher to the royal children. He composed a considerable number of works for the stage. The intermède Les Troqueurs has been recorded by William Christie (Harmonia mundi, 1994) and his comédie-ballet La Vénitienne more recently by Guy Van Waas (Ricercar, 2012). In addition his oeuvre includes a number of grands motets and some collections of instrumental music. One of the latter is a set of twelve sonatas for violin and bc op. 2, which was printed in 1742. The Sonata XII in a minor is of the older four-movement type: slow - fast - slow - fast. The last movement is a menuet. This sonata attests to the fact that Dauvergne was a professional violinist, and is clearly different from the violin parts in Simon's sonatas.

Since the late 17th century arrangements of arias and especially instrumental pieces from operas were quite common. Jean-Henry d'Anglebert was the first, who wrote such arrangements, in his case of pieces from operas by Lully. In the oeuvre of Jean-Philippe Rameau we also find a close connection between music for the harpsichord and opera, but then mostly in the opposite direction. He arranged some of his harpsichord pieces for orchestra and included them in his operas. In this programme we find arrangements of pieces from Castor et Pollux, a tragédie en musique, first performed in 1737. These arrangements are from the pen of Josse-François-Joseph Benaut, a composer who was born in what is now Belgium and was guillotined in 1794. Hardly anything is known about him, apart from the fact that he was active as a keyboard teacher in Paris. Another composer of the late 18th century who often arranged opera music was Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. Here he is represented with one movement from a sonata which is part of a set of sonatas for harpsichord with violin accompaniment; they have been preserved in manuscript and date from 1749. Again I wonder why only one movement has been recorded.

Jean-Pierre Guignon, whose original name was Giovanni Pietro Guignone, was born in Turin in Italy. Here lived the famous violin virtuoso Giovanni Battista Somis, who became his teacher. Somis also was the teacher of Leclair, and it is not impossible that the two have met there. Guignone settled in Paris in 1725, and took the name of Guignon. He played at the Concert Spirituel and was introduced to the royal court. His compositional oeuvre includes a respectable number of chamber music works. His arrangement of Rameau's Les Sauvages - originally a harpsichord piece, and later included in Les Indes galantes - is part of a collection of pieces for two violins by various composers from around 1746, which was dedicated to Madame Adélaïde. Obviously such a piece can only be recorded by a single violinist by way of technical tricks. I don't like this; in my view a recording should be as close as possible to the original performing conditions.

Jean-Baptiste Cardonne was educated as a harpsichordist and a singer. He was a child prodigy: at the age of 13 a motet from his pen was performed before the king. He had close ties to the royal children, and the set of six sonatas, from which the Sonata VI is taken, was dedicated to Adélaïde. This piece is probably the latest in the programme, and links up with the fashion of the time in its scoring for obbligato harpsichord with violin accompaniment.

The programme opens with four chimes of the clock in Madame Victoire’s Main Drawing-room. "In addition, it seemed fascinating to us being able to present between pieces a few marvellous carillons of the Marc-Antoine Le Nepveu clock made in homage to the birth in 1781 of the eldest son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, dating from 1785 (it is currently to be found in the Cabinet de la Méridienne, located at the heart of the castle on the first floor)", Olivier Baumont writes in the booklet. These add some nice couleur locale to this programme.

That couleur locale also manifests itself in the two instruments used here. Baumont plays a splendid harpsichord of 1746, built by François-Etienne Blanchet, and preserved in the castle of Versailles. The violin was built by the Neapolitan violin maker Nicola Gagliano. Once Marius Casadesus claimed this instrument had been owned by Madame Adélaïde, but as his name is associated with some forgeries - among them a violin concerto apparently written by Mozart - this has to be taken with a grain of salt. The fact that it is decorated with ten fleurs-de-lys could suggest that it was once in the possession of the royal family, as this was the emblem of the House of France. However, it was also the emblem of the Naples Bourbons, so that doesn't provide us with any conclusive evidence. It is a fine instrument, as this disc demonstrates.

Both instruments fare well in the hands of the two artists. Olivier Baumont and Julien Chauvin bring this interesting programme to life. They have found the right approach, and don't try to make too much of this repertoire. None of these pieces will shock the music world, but they give a good impression of the musical climate at the time. The music recorded here is not part of the standard repertoire, and some of the composers are also little known. This is another disc which makes acquainted with music and composers who deserve more attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

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Olivier Baumont

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