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Michel Pignolet DE MONTÉCLAIR (1667 - 1737), arr Antonio Frigé: "A la guerre!"

Gabriele Cassone, trumpet; Antonio Frigé, harpsichord
Ensemble Pian & Forte/Antonio Frigé

rec: Nov 1998, Genoa, Dynamics Studio
Dynamic - DM8004 (© 2010) (R) (79'07")

Troisième Concert; Quatrième Concert; Cinquième Concert 'La guerre'; Sixième Concert 'La paix'

Sources: Concerts pour la flûte traversière et autres instruments, 1724

Luca Marzana, Jonathan Pia, Mauro Bernasconi, trumpet; Alberto Macchini, timpani

If the repertoire for an instrument is rather limited it is understandable that its players are looking for music to arrange. In particular recorder players do so frequently. Trumpet players have the same problem: in the 17th and 18th centuries the trumpet was mostly either used in ensemble pieces, in particular marches, and in music of a ceremonial nature, for instance settings of the Te Deum. It was an instrument which had hardly any role in chamber music.

In France composers mostly offered alternative scorings for their chamber music. The six Concerts - which have the form of suites - by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair which were published in 1724/25 are no exception. Although written as pieces for the transverse flute the composer suggested performances on the recorder, the oboe or the violin. The trumpet is not mentioned, and that is no surprise. As far as I know the trumpet was never mentioned as an alternative in chamber music, and it never figured in chamber cantatas. Even Joseph Bodin de Boismortier who composed sonatas and chamber concertos for almost any instrument of his time, never composed music for trumpet. It isn't just the instrument's loudness which explains this, but first and foremost the fact that chamber music was written for members of the bourgeoisie to play at home. And they didn't own a trumpet, let alone were able to play it. From this perspective the decision to play four concertos for a treble instrument and basso continuo on the trumpet is rather odd.

Musically speaking it was a bad decision as well. For the Troisième Concert Montéclair suggests the musette, the small bagpipe which was very popular in France in the 17th and early 18th centuries and was frequently used in pastoral music. The trumpet is therefore the most unsuitable instrument to play this particular suite. The other suites also contain many pieces in which the use of the trumpet is inappropriate.
The fact that in the Quatrième Concert the trumpet is not involved in half of the movements speaks for itself. How could a trumpet play a piece like 'La Mélancolique', 'La Ténébreuse' or a sarabande? In some movements passages with trumpet alternate with episodes played on harpsichord alone. As a result the chaconne falls apart.

In the Sixième Concert 'La Paix' the trumpet is obviously not involved in a movement like 'Sommeil' (sleep), but it does play in movements where it would have been better to be silent, like 'musette', referring to the pastoral instrument mentioned above. The same suite also contains a movement called 'Carillon du Moutier'. Here the treble instrument should imitate the carillon, but the trumpet lacks the subtlety to do so convincingly.

It is just one example of imitation - a genre which was much loved in the baroque era. Many pieces were written to imitate animals, instruments, human characters or everyday phenomena. On the one hand it was a challenge for a composer to suggest, for instance, the sound of the trumpet with a violin or a flute. On the other hand it appealed to the imagination of the players and the listeners to hear the 'real thing'. One would expect the Cinquième Concert 'La guerre', which is programme music of sorts, to come off best. That is indeed the case, but even here some pieces are unsuitable for the trumpet and played with harpsichord alone, like the 'Concert sous le tente du General' (concert in the general's tent) and the sarabande. It was the composer's aim to evoke the picture of a battle with the use of an intimate instrument. By using the trumpet instead everything is spelled out and nothing is left to the imagination. I would call this a vulgarisation of what the composer had in mind.

The playing of Gabriele Cassone at the natural trumpet is excellent, and worthy of a better cause. I am less impressed by Antonio Frigé's harpsichord playing which is often lacklustre and bland. The contributions of the three additional trumpets and the timpani is reduced to some movements of the Cinquième Concert.

One can understand the desire of a trumpet player to perform solo music, but arranging Montéclair's flute music for the trumpet was a not a good idea.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Pian & Forte

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