LHOYER: 3 Duo Concertants, Op. 31 / Duo Concertant, Op. 34, No. 2 (Lorenzo Micheli/ Matteo Mela/ Soloduo) (Naxos: 8.570146)
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Antoine de Lhoyer (1768–1852)
Over the past ten years musicologists have finally begun to cast light upon the still somewhat enigmatic figure of Antoine de Lhoyer. Although Lhoyer's biography and his relations with the cultural life of his time have yet to be fully explored, the many travels throughout Europe of the composer, born in Clermont-Ferrand in September 1768, are today well known: Versailles, Koblenz, Austria, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Paris, the island of Oléron, Niort, Corsica, Aix-en-Provence, Algeria, and Paris again, are the stages of a tormented and restless existence that was deeply affected by the events of European history and irreparably upset by the end of the Ancien Régime.
It was the French Revolution that caused the breakup of the Gardes du Corps du Roi, in 1791, where Lhoyer had served for a few years. After leaving his native France, the composer embarked upon his wanderings, supporting the counter-revolutionary cause and serving in such corps as the Armée des Princes, the Armée de Condé and the Austrian army. There is evidence of his presence between 1800 and 1804 in Hamburg, where he temporarily cast off the military dress and devoted himself entirely to guitar teaching and composing. It was there that he also published his earliest known works, such as the Sonate, Op. 12, and the Concerto, Op. 16, both for five-string guitar. At present there are no precise answers to the questions surrounding Lhoyer's musical education, his first steps as a composer and professional musician, and his relations with guitarists throughout Europe, but there is no doubt that, given Lhoyer's fondness for well-constructed formal structures (sonatas and ouvertures) rather than for the customary sets of variations and collections of romances with guitar accompaniment, we can suppose for him a serious and in-depth musical training.
As early as 1804 Lhoyer was eastbound again, moving to St Petersburg, where a position at the imperial court, most probably as guitar teacher of the Czar's daughters, ensured him a peaceful time of stability and prosperity. 1813 marked the year of Lhoyer's return to France: almost at the same time he published his first works for six-string guitar. After the fall of Napoleon and his subsequent exiles to Elba and Saint Helena, Lhoyer was restored to his office in the army of the King. Nonetheless, this was the start of a long period of uncertainty, isolation and dire financial straits due to the frequent transfers from one remote and lonely place to another. His condition of a stateless person, however, did not prevent him from composing and publishing music: most of his works for two guitars, among which we count some of his masterpieces, date back to these troubled years. It is notably in the collections of Trois Duos Concertants Dédiés à Madame la Princesse De Croy Solré, Op. 31(Paris, Gaveaux 1814) and Trois Duos Concertants Composés et Dédiés à Monsieur le Compte de Rochechouart, Op. 34(Paris, Koliker 1819) that the simplicity and consistency of each part, the melodic and rhythmic incisiveness of the thematic material (packed with references to the music of Mozart), the formal knowledge and the dramatic and almost theatrical dialogue between the two instruments blend and give birth to a musical architecture of exceptional solidity and variety, that has very few equals in early nineteenth-century guitar repertoire. The notation adopted by the composer is a compromise between the so-called "primitive" notation, borrowed from violin notation and used by most French guitarists at the end of the eighteenth century, and the more evolved, precise and analytical writing of Giuliani and other Viennese guitarists. Nevertheless, thanks to its incomplete and concise nature, this notation perfectly suits the eclectic style of Lhoyer, that easily shifts from a simple accompanied melody to a complex contrapuntual texture.
What does strike the listener's attention in Lhoyer's music is the utter equality of the two guitars. This perfect balance, probably the most successful attempt to use a concertante style in the whole repertoire for two guitars from the classical age, is achieved through a technical device consisting of doubling the exposition of the themes, which, in the sonata-form movements, are afforded in turn to both first and second guitar. The first theme, in all of the four Duos, is rhythmically vivid and well carved, while the second theme has a more cantabile character (and may be sometimes enriched by unusual tone colours, such as the campanelas in the Allegro moderato Op. 31, No. 1). The end of the second thematic area leads us to a quite short development section, marked by a strong harmonic instability, although there are sporadic episodes in which a key seems to manage to establish itself: for instance, the G minor in Op. 34, No. 2, and the C major in Op. 31, No. 1); in the development section, there can be found virtuosic passages (fast scales with multiple slurs, broken thirds and octaves, detached arpeggios), contrapuntual fragments, imitations and even canons. In the recapitulation, Lhoyer introduces an innovative element that allows him to avoid the sensation of redundance by having the first theme presented only by the first guitar, whereas the second theme, stated in the tonic key, is regularly repeated by the second guitar.
The Duo in C major, Op. 31, No. 2, and the Duo in D minor, Op. 34, No. 2, comprise four movements, with the slow movement always being preceded by a Minuet. The very short Minuet in A minor, Op. 31, No. 2,is in a three-phrase binary form: the first phrase ends on the tonic, the second phrase establishes the relative major with a double V-I cadence and the third phrase, starting with the mediant of the relative major, returns to the A minor tonic, followed by a sixteen-measure Trio in A major and the Minuet da capo. The nimble Minuet in F major Op. 34, No. 2, with its Trio in the subdominant key animated by lively passages of the guitars in unison, is slighty longer and more structured.
The slow movements have mainly a ternary design, with their themes being quiet and uneventful (as in the Adagio cantabile in D major, Op. 34, No. 2), or sometimes yearning and pensive (as in the Adagio cantabile in C minor, Op. 31, No. 2). The middle sections, rhapsodic and improvisatory, are rich in fioriture and diminutions. The Romance Op. 31, No. 3, stands out from the others by dint of its double reprise of the C major theme, and the lively triplet section in A minor.
The final movement of all these works is always a Rondo. Here Lhoyer displays his remarkable ability in building a perfect musical mechanism, where strength and lightness, virtuosity and lyricism are maintained in constant balance. The Rondos in Op. 34, No. 2, and Op. 31, No. 2, have a double exposition of the theme (in all the ritornellos except the last one, which is performed solely by the first guitar). In the Duos Nos. 1 and 3, Op. 31, on the contrary, the main theme is stated by the first guitar, while the second guitar has some important solo episodes in the couplets.
The tight texture of cross-references inside the pieces reinforces the sensation of unity in Lhoyer's