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The violin in the 18th century France

[I] Jean-Jacques-Baptiste ANET (1676 - 1755): "Les Forjerons - Sonatas for violin and basso continuo"
Szabolcs Illés, violin; Kinga Gáborjáni, cello; Fanni Edöcs, harpsichord
rec: August 12 - 15, 2018, Budapest, Hungaroton Studio
Hungaroton - HCD 32754 (© 2020) (63'56")
Liner-notes: E/HU
Cover & track-list

Sonata I in A, op. 1,1; Sonata II in b minor, op. 1,2; Sonata IV in G, op. 1,4; Sonata V in C, op. 1,5; Sonata VIII in d minor, op. 1,8; 2e Sonate in g minor, op. 3,2; 3e Sonate in e minor, op. 3,3; 6e Sonate in c minor, op. 3,6

[II] "Les frères Francoeur"
Théotime Langlois de Swarte, violin; Justin Taylor, harpsichord
rec: Dec 2021, Paris, Banque de France (Galerie Dorée)
Alpha - 895 (© 2022) (78'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Jacques-Baptiste ANET (1676-1755): Sonata XI in c minor, op. 1,11; Jean DUROCHER (18th C): Première Suite in C (prélude); François FRANCOEUR (1698-1787): Sonata in G, op. 1,10; Sonata in g minor, op. 2,6; Francois FRANCOEUR & François REBEL (1701-1775): Le prince de Noisy (Pour plaire l'art ne peut prêter qu'une faible imposture); Le Trophée (gavotte pour les Muses et les Plaisirs; 2ème air); Les Augustales (Le théâtre s'obscrurit, on entend le tonnerre; Le théâtre s'éclaire; musette) Pyrame et Thisbé (air pour les guerriers); Scanderberg (premier & second airs); Tarcis et Zélie (rondeau); Louis FRANCOEUR (1692-1745): Sonata in e minor, op. 1,4; Sonata in b minor, op. 1,6 (largo); Louis-Joseph FRANCOEUR (1738-1804): Chaconne qui faitte pour donner à mon oncle; Théotime LANGLOIS DE SWARTE (*1995): Prélude (improvisation)

Sources: Louis Francoeur, Premier livre de sonates à violon seul et la basse, op. 1, 1715; François Francoeur, Sonates à violon seul et basse continue, Livre Ier, [op. 1], 1720; Jean-Jacques-Baptiste Anet, Premier Livre de sonates à violon seul et la basse continue, [op. 1], 1724; Jean-Jacques-Baptiste Anet, Sonates à violon seul et basse, op. 3, 1729; François Francoeur, Sonates à violon seul et basse continue, Deuxième livre, op. 2, 1730

During the 17th century the violin emancipated to one of the principal instruments in Europe. That is to say: the largest part of Europe. In England it was only after the Restoration that it started to take a prominent place in music life, and in France it lasted even longer. The violin was known and played, but mainly for dance music, and it was also part of the opera orchestra. In chamber music it was used as well, but virtuosity was not required. Very few French violinists would have been able to play things like double stops, which were a common device in violin music written in Italy, Germany and Austria.

The violin was associated with Italy, and the Italian style was - at least officially - not appreciated in France, as long as Jean-Baptiste Lully, at the orders of Louis XIV himself, worked at the creation of a truly French style. Around 1700 his influence started to wane, and composers and performers showed an increasing openness towards the Italian style. Jean-Marie Leclair is the best-known exponent of the growing influence of Italy in the writing for the violin, but there were others who are less well-known, and even before Leclair some of them published collections of sonatas for violin and basso continuo.

In recent years several composers of violin music other than Leclair have been given attention, which has resulted in a more differentiated picture of the musical landscape in France during the first half of the 18th century. In 2021, for instance, Théotime Langlois de Swarte recorded a programme of sonatas by Jean-Baptiste Sénaillé from three different books which were published in 1710, 1716 and 1721 respectively. The two discs under review here are further documents of the developments in violin playing and composing for the violin in France.

The first is entirely devoted to Jean-Jacques-Baptiste Anet, who received his first violin lessons from his father Jean-Baptiste, who was a pupil of Lully, and was for most of his life in the service of Louis XIV's brother, the Duke of Orléans, and later that of his son. From 1699 he was a player in the 24 Violons du Roi. There are no indications that he has been active as a composer; no pieces from his pen are known. His son went to Rome around 1695/96 to study with Arcangelo Corelli, who seems to have been so much impressed by the young man that he gave him his bow and regarded him his adopted son. After some travelling across Germany and Poland he entered the service of the Bavarian Elector Maximilian Emanuel, who lived in exile in France. In 1701 he played before the Sun King at the court, who was very pleased, although Anet played "Italian airs", according to Le Mercure galant. Interestingly, he was accompanied by two celebrities: Antoine Forqueray on the viola da gamba and François Couperin on the harpsichord.

Anet became a member of the 24 Violons du Roi, and in 1725 he played at the Concert Spirituel. He published two books with violin sonatas, as his Op. 1 (1724) and his Op. 3 (1729) respectively. They are different in style: the first collection is Italian in character which explains the Italian titles of the movements, such as allemanda, giga and gavotta, in addition to tempo indications andante, adagio, largo and allegro. The number of movements varies: the Sonata V in C has three, the Sonata IV in G six. Several movements include passages with double stopping. The second collection is more French in character, and nearly all the movements bear French titles, such as sarabande, ariette and gigue. Again the number of movements is different, and these sonatas are not devoid of virtuosity either: double stopping also appears in these sonatas.

It is interesting to compare Anet and Leclair with regard to their attitude towards the Italian style. Both did appreciate it, but did not like the eccentricities often associated with it. Leclair's comments are well-known, and Anet seems to have shared his views. A writer on music, Noël-Antoine Pluche, known as Abbé Pluche, wrote in 1746 that "Mr Baptiste ... does not approve the ambition to devour all sorts of difficulties... He gives no advantage to a piece whose performance appears prodigious, and he gives his highest esteem to that which pleases the listener surely. (...) This point of view requires that the instrumental sound be connected, sustained, mellow, impassioned, and conforming to the human voice, of which it is only the imitation and support ... German, Italian, English - to him it is all the same." There is a clear congeniality here with the ideals of someone like Giuseppe Tartini.

The Hungarian violinist Szabolcs Illés, pupil of Sigiswald Kuijken, has selected five sonatas from the Op. 1 and three from the Op. 3. One of the features of his interpretations is that he adds variations to some of the repeats in order to pay tribute to the improvisatory skills, for which Anet was known. The result is a highly compelling recital which gives a perfect impression of the high quality of Anet's oeuvre and undoubtedly his own playing skills. I did not know Illés, but I am impressed by his splendid technique and his interpretations of Anet's sonatas. Kinga Gáborjáni and Fanni Edöcs are his congenial partners in the basso continuo.

Théotime Langlois de Swarte is a better-known player who in recent years has made quite an impression as a soloist and as a member of the ensemble Le Consort. In his latest recording he is joined by the ensemble's harpsichordist, Justin Taylor, in a programme which focuses on the members of the Francoeur family. Anet is also represented as a substitute for his father, who - as we have noted - did not leave any compositions. When Jean-Baptiste was about to die, he sold his position in the 24 Violons du Roi to Joseph Francoeur for the latter's son Louis.

Louis started his career, not as a violinist but as a player of the bass violin, in the orchestra of the Opéra in 1704. He then joined the 24 Violons du Roi in 1710 and was promoted to its leader in 1717. He frequently played at the courts of the royal family, and published two collections of sonatas for violin and basso continuo. Langlois de Swarte and Taylor play the fourth of the first book and a slow movement from the sixth sonata. Although the influence of the Italian style is evident, they are French in character, and a technique like double stopping is not frequently applied. They do include bariolage passages crossing two or three strings and wide melodic leaps, though.

The programme includes a piece by Louis-Joseph Francoeur, Louis's son, also a violinist, who played in the 24 Violons du Roi and also the orchestra of the Opéra. He also was an effective administrator of the Opéra. As a composer he wrote music for the stage, and revised stage works by other composers. He is the author of several theoretical works.

The main figure on this disc is Louis's brother François. He received the first lessons on the violin from his father and entered the 24 Violons du Roi in 1710, aged just twelve, playing the dessus de violon. In 1717 Jean-Fery Rebel's son François entered the 24 Violons du Roi, and the two became close friends. In the course of time their collaboration in the field of writing music for the stage became so close that until today it is not known who of them was the composer of the music that has been preserved. When they were asked about it, they refused to tell. This explains why the extracts from their stage works, performed here in transcriptions for violin and basso continuo, bear the names of both of them. Strictly speaking, it is quite possible that many of them are from the pen of Rebel.

Fortunately, Francoeur did leave two collections of sonatas for violin and basso continuo. The first dates from 1720 and comprises ten sonatas; the second set of twelve dates from 1730. They show his preference for the mixture of the French and Italian styles, which makes him a representative of the goûts réunis, like François Couperin. The titles of the movements are either in French or in Italian. Francoeur was well aware of what was written elsewhere; his library included pieces by, among others, Corelli and Albinoni, and through journeys he was acquainted with playing techniques and compositional styles in Central Europe. The sonatas from his two collections included here, are varied in character; double stopping is regularly applied. Benoît Dratwicki, in his liner-notes, reckons Francoeur's sonatas to the most beautiful of the period.

That is impressively demonstrated here, also thanks to the excellent performances by Langlois de Swarte and Taylor, two of the most brilliant performers of their generation. It is nice that they are willing to explore unknown territory, as this disc once again shows. The - mostly lyrical - extracts from the stage works (highlight: 'Pour plaire l'art ne peut prêter qu'une faible imposture' from Le prince de Noisy) are performed just as well as the sonatas, which are pretty exciting. This is a disc no lover of the violin should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Szabolcs Illés
Théotime Langlois de Swarte
Justin Taylor

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