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Music in Paris from Duphly to Mozart

[I] Jacques DUPHLY (1715 - 1789): "Pièces de clavecin / Works for harpsichord"
Medea Bindewald, harpsichord; Nicolette Moonen, violina

rec: August 6 - 9, 2013, Swithland (UK), St Leonard's Church
Coviello - COV 91404 (© 2014) (73'73")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Allemande [1]; Chaconne [3]; La Boucon [1]; La De Casaubona [3]; La De Maya [3]; La De Valmallettea [3]; La De Vaucanson [4]; La Du Taillya [3]; La Forqueray La Madina [3]; La Millettina [1]; La Pothouïn [4]; Médée [3]; Ouverturea [3]; Rondeaux [1]

Sources: [1] Pièces de clavecin, 1744; [2] Second livre de pièces de clavecin, 1748; [3] Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1756; [4] Quatrième livre de pièces de clavecin, 1768

[II] "Les Sauvages - Harpsichords in pre-Revolutionary Paris"
Giulia Nuti, harpsichord
rec: Jan 28 - 31, 2013, Milan, Museo degli Strumenti Musicali, Castello Sforzesco
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88843060462 (© 2014) (67'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Johann Gottfried ECKARD (1735-1809): Sonata I in B flat, op. 1,1 [1]; Nicolas-Joseph HÜLLMANDEL (1756-1823): Sonata II in a minor, op. 3,2 [3]; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791): Sonata in a minor (KV 310/300d); Johann SCHOBERT (c1735-1767): Sonata I in E flat, op. 14,1 [2]; Jean François TAPRAY (1738/39-after 1798): Les Sauvages avec des variations pour le clavecin (1770)

Sources: [1] Johann Gottfried Eckard, Six sonates pour le clavecin, op. 1, 1763; [2] Johann Schobert, Six Sonates pour le Clavecin, op. 14, 1766; [3] Nicolas-Joseph Hüllmandel, Trois sonates, op. 3, 1777;

These two discs span a little more than 30 years, from 1744 - the year Jacques Duphly published his first book with harpsichord pieces - to 1778. In the latter year Mozart stayed in Paris and composed his Sonata in a minor (KV 310). They seem to be from different eras, stylistically speaking. Duphly, whose oeuvre comprises exclusively keyboard music, is probably mostly associated with the baroque era, although his fourth and last book dates from 1768. Mozart, on the other hand, is one of the main representatives of the classical era. Whereas Duphly's music is almost exclusively played on the harpsichord, Mozart's oeuvre is usually performed on the fortepiano. However, they are closer than one may think.

Duphly was born in Rouen and was educated by the Cathedral's organist François d'Agincourt. In 1732 he became organist of the Cathedral in Evreux, and moved to Saint-Eloi in Rouen two years later. In 1740 he was appointed organist of Notre-Dame-de-la-Ronde in the same town, but left his job two years later. He settled in Paris where he focussed on the harpsichord. There is no sign of him taking any official job. He probably made a living as a teacher among the upper echelons of society. Contemporaries state that he was one of the greatest keyboard players of his time, alongside Rameau and Balbastre. In the last decades of his life he led more or less a secluded life, and soon he was almost forgotten.

In 1763 Mozart, with his father Leopold and sister Nannerl, first visited Paris in 1763, when Duphly was still alive. There is no evidence that they met, but during his stay Mozart became acquainted with a genre which was quite popular at the time: music for keyboard with a part for violin ad libitum. The most famous specimens of this genre are the Pièces de clavecin en concerts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Duphly also contributed to this genre: the third book includes six pieces which can be played with harpsichord alone, but also with a violin. This either duplicates the right hand or adds some ornamentations and imitative phrases. Mozart seems to have written in this genre as well: in 1764 two sonatas for keyboard with violin by Mozart were published in Paris as his op. 1 (KV 6 and 7), followed by his op. 2 for the same scoring (KV 8 and 9). It needs to be added, though, that their authenticity seems not to be beyond all doubt.

Another composer who wrote such pieces was Johann Schobert; in 1766 he published Six Sonates pour le Clavecin op. 14. Five of these are for keyboard with a violin ad libitum. The first has three ad libitum parts: two violins and cello. That sonata is included by Giulia Nuti in her recording of pieces written in "pre-Revolutionary Paris". Schobert was one of various German performers and composers who were active there. The German-born journalist and critic Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm wrote to Leopold Mozart in 1764 that the Germans were "the masters in the field of publication and composition". Apart from Schobert he mentioned also Johann Gottfried Eckard who was born in Augsburg and settled in Paris in 1758, in the company of the fortepiano builder Johann Andreas Stein.

The latter fact is especially interesting in regard to Giulia Nuti's choice of the harpsichord for her recording. In her liner-notes she explains why she opted to play the harpsichord in a programme of pieces which date from the 1770s. At that time the fortepiano had already established itself in France. Harpsichord builders tried to find ways to make the harpsichord competitive to the fortepiano. "The invention of the peau de buffle stop in particular enabled a wider dynamic range simply by changing the material used to pluck the strings (leather instead of quill). Genouillères were added to permit the performer to add and subtract registers while playing, without having to lift their hands from the keyboard". Ms Nuti is playing a harpsichord with such devices: a copy of a Taskin of 1788.

It is not so easy to decide what was the preferred keyboard of composers of that time. Collections of keyboard music often mention the harpsichord and the fortepiano as alternatives. Even if that is not the case the preface sometimes specifically refers to the fortepiano, for instance Eckard in the edition of his op. 1 sonatas, from which Giulia Nuti plays the first. The German composers were probably more leaning towards the fortepiano than their French counterparts. The above-mentioned Baron von Grimm wrote in 1765 that Schobert in particular "has completely destroyed the reputation of [A.L.] Couperin, du Phly [Duphly], [and] Balbastre". This refers to them writing in a style which was different from the French tradition.

But that was not a specialty of the Germans. In her programme Ms Nuti includes variations on Rameau's Les Sauvages by Jean François Tapray. She points out that Tapray makes changes to Rameau's ornamentation and replaces some of his ornament signs. Quoting Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach she suggests that this could possibly be explained from a lack of knowledge of the 'old' ornamentation signs. If that is the case one has to conclude that not only the Germans broke with the tradition of the French harpsichord school.

Moreover, in Duphly's four books from which Medea Bindewald plays a selection, one meets pieces which refer to the past, for instance François Couperin, but also features of the style which was to become the standard in the 1770s and 1780s. Some pieces from the last book could be played on the fortepiano. This makes Duphly a key figure in the transitional period between the baroque era and the classical style.

Although the music by Schobert and Eckard is mostly played on the fortepiano - if it is played at all - Giulia Nuti proves that it does well on the harpsichord. There can be little doubt that this instrument continued to play a significant role in France. Claude-Bénigne Balbastre, one of the main representatives of the French keyboard school of the late 18th century, is quoted as having said in 1774 to Taskin, after having heard an English square piano: "This newcomer will never dethrone the majestic harpsichord". Fact is that Mozart, when he visited Paris in 1778, played several harpsichords, one of them owned by Baron von Grimm. As he composed his Sonata in a minor (KV 310) at that time, it is fully justified to perform it on the harpsichord.

These two discs complement each other quite nicely. They document the stylistic changes in France between the late 1740s and the late 1770s, not only in the realm of composition but also in performance and instrument building. Medea Bindewald has made a representative selection from Duphly's four books, and delivers splendid performances. I especially like her subtle application of the notes inégales, for instance in La Forqueray which opens her programme. La Pouthouïn receives a quite dramatic performance. Nicolette Moonen is responsible for the colourful performance of the ad libitum violin parts. Only here and there I felt that the violin was a little too loud.

Giulia Nuti deserves praise for her original programming with pieces which are seldom heard and recorded. Her approach to this repertoire and though-provoking choice of the harpsichord also speaks strongly for this disc. Add to that her brilliant and energetic performances and one will understand that this disc is not to be missed by lovers of French keyboard music of the 18th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Medea Bindewald
Giulia Nuti

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