BOISMORTIER: Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse

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Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689 - 1755)

Don Quixote at the Duchess'

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was born at Thionville on 23rd December 1689 anddied at Roissy-en-Brie on 28th October 1755. He holds an exceptional position inthe history of music in more than one respect. Born into the modest family of aretired soldier, who had settled in Thionville as the owner of a sweet-shop, hemoved to Metz in 1700 and left Lorraine in 1713 to establish himself in the cityof Perpignan as a clerk for the Royal Board of Tobaccos, a position remoteenough from the world of music. There is no trace, indeed, of any musicalactivity of his during the ten years he spent in the city. It seems, however,that he did receive some musical instruction during this period from JosephValette de Montigny and in 1720 Boismortier married a niece of his, a member ofa family of rich jewellers, subsequently, acting on the advice of highly placedfriends, he proceeded to liquidate his business and settled with his wife anddaughter at the court of the Duchess of Maine, at Sceaux and later in Paris,where he was first granted the privilege of printing his own compositions on29th February 1724, allowing him now to publish his duets for transverse fluteand the French cantatas that he had written in Perpignan.

In his Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne of 1780, thedistinguished scholar Jean- Benjamin de La Borde painted a charming andrealistic picture of the composer:

Boismortier appeared at a time when only simple and easy music was infashion. This competent musician took all too much advantage of this tendencyand shaped, for the many, airs and duets in great number which were performed onthe flute, the violins, oboes, bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies . ..He soabused the ingenuousness of his numerous buyers that in the end the followingwas said of him:

Happy is he, Boismortier, whose fertile quill

Conceives each month, without travail, of airs his fill.

(Bienheureux Boismortier
, dont la fertile plume

Peut tous les mois sans peine enfanter un volume.)

Boismortier's answer to such pleasantries, remained simple enough and to thepoint: I am earning money. His output was remarkable, with some 102pieces, to which may be added airs, other scores, grand motets and a dictionaryof harmony. He also published practical manuals for the flute and the trebleviol.

Vocal music by Boismortier includes serious songs, drinking songs, Frenchcantatas, small motets, motets for large choirs, small cantatas and, naturally,opera-ballets, these last Les voyages de l'Amour (The Travels of Love) in1736, Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Quixote at the Duchess') in1743, the pastoral Daphnis et Chloe in 1747, the lyric tragedy Daphnein 1748 and, in 1752, Les quatre parties du monde (The Four Parts ofthe World).

Victim, among others of the conflict between Italian and French musicaltraditions, the so-called querelle des bouffons, he withdrew from themusical scene in 1753. He was the owner of a small property, La G?ótinellerie,at Roissy-en-Brie, and here, at the age of sixty-six, he died, shortly afterrequesting permission to be buried in the nave of the parish church there.

The three-act ballet Don Quichotte was the result of a collaborationwith Charles-Simon Favart and was to involve material derived from Boismortier'sown encounters in the salons of Paris. There, according to De La Borde, he wasto be seen decked out in his finest golden costume, speaking eloquently,flirting with women, impressing everyone with his verses. This would haveearned him the friendship of Favart, who raised vaudeville to new heights andparticipated in the birth of the French opera-comique. The writer had wonparticular popularity in 1741 with La chercheuse d'esprit (TheSeeker after Wit) at the Foire St-Germain. In 1743 he was engaged as stagemanager and repetiteur by the Paris Opera-Comique and in the same yearBoismortier became assistant conductor for the orchestra of the Foire St-Laurent, with which Favart was allowed to work after the closure of theOpera-Comique, an event that took place as a result of the jealousy of theCornedie-Italienne.

Performed at the Royal Academy of Music on 12th February 1743, in a doublebill with a revival of Jean-Joseph Mouret's Ragonde ou la soiree de village (Ragondeor the Village Evening), Boismortier's ballet was staged before Le pouvoirdel'Amour (The Power of Love), by Pancrace Royer, which had its firstperformance on 23rd April. Boismortier had, in consequence, competition from themost distinguished of his contemporaries. The tragic moral themes of Cervantes,however, became, under Favart, a true comedie-lyrique, with a plot that minglesthe comic and the sad, much as had Le carnaval et lafolie (Carnival andFolly) by Destouches in 1704, de la Barre's La venitienne in 1705or Rameau's Platee in 1745. The production involved some of the bestknown performers of the time, with Marie Fel as Altisidore, Berard andCuvillier as Don Quichotte and Sancho, and the dancers Dumoulin, Lany and Dupre,with Mesdemoiselles Dallemand and Camargo. Voltaire wrote the following lines onCamargo and her rival Salle, who danced in Boismortier's Les voyages del'Amour:

Oh Camargo, how brilliant you are,

But Salle, good heavens, how ravishing!

How light are your steps and how sweet are hers!

She is unmatched and you are new.

Nymphs leap in your fashion,

But the Graces dance like her.

The colourful and brilliant overture is followed by three acts, moving at arapid pace, in which Boismortier makes use of some Rameau effects, tripletcrotchets, short rhythmic passages, accompanied recitatives and distinctiveorchestration. Rameau himself was to recall this work when, ten years later, hewrote his Boreades, in which two of the finest arias bear a strikingresemblance to arias from Don Quichotte. The musical interludes ail havethe pastoral characteristics of the period and, although Boismortier does notmake use of the musette, the French shepherd bagpipe, to enhance them, he makesfull use of the gavottes, bourrees, passepieds and other airs and dances thathe happily reproduces in his compilation of sonatas. Naturally some ariasprovide an excuse for moralising on love and war and some instruments have thefinest pages of the score assigned to them, as with the flute solo in Act II,Scene 3, with Altisidore's Eh, pourquoi mourir de changer and the oboepart in Act I, Scene 5, with the peasant girl's comic Je n'entends point lecaquet d'un muguet.

Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse prefigures the success of Boismortier'spastorale Daphnis et Chloe, with a libretto by Laujon, which was firstperformed on 28th September 1747, forming the climax of his career, to berestaged and even parodied in 1752 by the Comedie- Italienne as Les bergersde qualite (The Shepherds of Quality). Numbered 102, Daphnis et Chloe endsBoismortier's catalogue of works, one of the most voluminous ever produced by aneighteenth century French composer.

Stephan Perreau

(Translation by Michael Nafi)

Notes from the Stage Director, Vincent Tavemier

The Characteristics of a New Genre

On the one hand we have Favart, a librettist s
Item number 8553647
Barcode 730099464727
Release date 01/01/2000
Category Overture
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Disc: 1
Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (Don Quixote at the
1 Act 1: Overture
2 Act 1: Chasse au monstre (Hunting the Monster)
3 Act 1: Air de Don Quichotte (Don Quixote's Air)
4 Act 1: Air de Sancho (Sancho's Air)
5 Act 1: Marche
6 Act 1: Menuets I et II
7 Act 1: Air pour les patres (Shepherds' Air)
8 Act 1: Tambourins I et II
9 Act 1: Scene de la paysanne (Peasant Girl's Scene)
10 Act 1: Merlin l'enchanteour (Merlin the Magician)
11 Act 1: Ouverture
12 Act 2: La caverne de Montesinos (The Cave of Monte
13 Act 2: Depit de Sancho (Sancho's Troubles)
14 Act 2: Air pour charmer (Air of Enchantment)
15 Act 2: Air de la colere (Angry Air)
16 Act 2: Lutte avec le geant (Struggle with the Gian
17 Act 2: Air pur le desenchantment (Air to Break the
18 Act 2: Air de Montesinos (Air of Montesinos)
19 Act 2: Air pour les amants desenchantes (Air for D
20 Act 2: Divertissement
21 Act 2: Ch
22 Act 2: Transport de Dulcinee (Dulcinea Transported
23 Act 3: Le gentil Sapajou (The Gentle Sapajou)
24 Act 3: Air epagnol (Spanish Air)
25 Act 3: Entree d'Altisidore (Altisidore's Entrance)
26 Act 3: Retour de Merlin (Merlin's Return)
27 Act 3: L'infante du Congo (The Infanta from the Co
28 Act 3: Air d'Altisidore (Altisidore's Air)
29 Act 3: Ch
30 Act 3: Marche et air pour le Japon (Japanese March
31 Act 3: Air de la Japonaise (Japanese Woman's Air)
32 Act 3: Chaconne
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