Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689- 1755)
Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord, Op. 91 (c. 1742)
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was born in 1689 at Thionville,where he spent his early childhood. At the age of ten he moved with his familyto Metz and thence, in 1713 or 1714, to Perpignan, a town that he seems to haveleft in the early 1720s to settle in Paris. Here his prolific talent as acomposer and his very considerable number of compositions won him a reputationand enough money to allow independence of patrons. In 1724 he published hisfirst works, two sets of six sonatas for two flutes, six sonatas for flute andbasso continuo, twelve little trio sonatas for two flutes and continuo and fourFrench cantatas on the four seasons. This was the beginning of a voluminous seriesof compositions that by 1747 had amounted to 102 works. Although he seems tohave boasted no particular skill as a performer or as a director of his ownmusic, he nevertheless is recorded as having served as chef d'orchestre at the FoireSt-Laurent in 1744 and in 1745 at the Foire St-Germain. He is reported later,however, as having declined to direct performances, telling the director of theOpera and Concerts: Messieurs, viola ma partition; faites-en ce que vous pourrez,car, pour moi, je n ' entends pas plus a faire valoir que plus petit enfant de choeur
(Gentlemen, here is my score; make of it what you can, for I understand nothingmore of the matter than a little choir-boy). He continued to write until hisdeath in 1755 at the house he had bought at Roissy-en-Brie.
Boismortier's very fecundity aroused hostile criticism.
The Abbe Raynal, for example, claimed that the public was indiscriminate in itspurchase of music by Boismortier, compositions that were only useful forbeginners or for the dull bourgeoisie. Another jibe was in circulation:
?á?á?á?á?á Bienheureux Boismortier, dont la fertile plume
?á?á?á?á?á Peut taus les mois, sans peine, enfanter unvolume
(Happy Boismortier whose fertile pen can every month withease give birth to a volume).
D'Aquin too, while including Boismortier in his list ofdistinguished composers, could not avoid remarking that his reputation wouldhave been higher had he published less. He adds particular praise for thepastoral opera Daphnis et Chloe, staged at the Academie Royale in Parisin 1747 and published as Opus 102. This, he claims, was not displeasing,although its success may have been due rather to the words. Nevertheless, hecontinues, Boismortier knew how to please popular taste in his music for flutesor musettes. From another source we learn that he had earned 50,000 ecus fromhis music. Pere Jean-Benjamin Laborde found rather more to admire, claiming, inhis Essai sur la Musique of 1780, that there was gold to be found bythose willing to search through Boismortier's work - Quoique ses oeuvres soientoublies, quelqu'un qui voudrait se donner la peine de fouiller cette mine abandonneepourrait y trouver assez de laillettes pour faire un lingot (Although hisworks may be forgotten, someone who would be willing to take the trouble ofsearching this abandoned mine could find there enough flakes of gold to make aningot). However facile he may have seemed to some of his more earnestcontemporaries, he certainly enjoyed popular esteem, made money from his musicand, more important, was credited with the introduction of the Italian concertoform into France.
The Sonates pour un clavecin et une .flute traversiere
were published in Paris in 1742 as Opus 91. The publication is unusual in thatit includes a completely
realised harpsichord part, something relatively seldomfound in works of this kind. The form of the sonatas and the key-pattern of themovements, however, are conventional. The movements of each sonata remain inthe same tonality, while the movement-structure is generally in two parts,separated by a double bar with a repeat, after which there is a modulation tointroduce the second section. Only two of the movements have dance indications,the Sicilienne of the first sonata and the Menuet of the last.
Other movements are alternately gay or graceful, the latter term reserved fortender slow movements and the former generally for the joyful outer movements.
Flute and harpsichord are treated idiomatically, with equal importance given toeach instrument in sonatas that are as pleasing now as they were to Boismortier'sfirst public.