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Name of Work

Devienne, Francois (1759-1803)
Quartet in C Major, No. 1, Op. 73 for bassoon and strings

Movements:
Allegro spiritoso
Adagio cantabile
Rhondo allegro moderato

Performances:


Nov 22, 1992



Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jerry Grossman, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Robert Swan, Viola


Nov 23, 1992



Bruce Grainger, Bassoon
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Jerry Grossman, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
Robert Swan, Viola

DEVIENNE - Quartet in C Major for Bassoon and String, Op. 73, No. 1

From history books, from literature, and from films, strong impressions remain in the mind of the turbulent decade of the 1790s in Paris, the era of the French Revolution: Marie Antoinette and Robespierre, Madame Défarge and Sydney Carton, the Bastille and the guillotine, aristocrats and street people, all those "ghosts from Versailles" evoked in the recent opera by John Corigliano. It's easy to forget, though, that some semblance of ordinary life did continue, in Paris and throughout France, in spite of violence, chaotic upheaval, and economic hardship. Among these ordinary people struggling to maintain ordinary lives were musicians, and it is interesting to look at a list of the notable composers who were active in Paris during the 1790s. During the year 1989, the bicentennial of the storming of the Bastille, the music of many of these 18th-century Frenchmen, the Classical contemporaries of Haydn and Mozart in Vienna, received a dose of new attention, and we had a chance to hear works by such almost-unknowns as Francois-Etienne Méhul and Francois Boieldieu. Emigré composers also made careers in Paris during these years: Luigi Cherubini from Italy, and the Belgians Francois Joseph Gossec and André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry. Many of these found a new market for their works through the host of public celebrations that the Revolution called forth, composing for these occasions numerous large-scale choral works, but more traditional activities, like theatre and opera, also continued, and an important institution of French musical life, the Paris Conservatoire, was founded in 1795.

Francois Devienne (1759-1803) achieved some of his major successes during the Revolutionary years. He was acclaimed as a composer of operas, most of them comedies, and all premiered in Paris after 1789, indicating that the theatre-going public much appreciated comic relief from life's ominous realities. In earlier years, Devienne had been a noted virtuoso on both the flute and the bassoon, achieving his first fulltime job at the age of 20 as a bassoonist in the Paris Opera orchestra, writing and performing solo concertos for both his principal instruments, and also composing "symphonies concertantes" for two or more soloists with orchestra. His appointment in 1795 as professor of flute at the new Conservatoire reflected these achievements; at about the same time, he published an influential flute teaching manual.

A close contemporary of Mozart (1756-91), Devienne enjoyed a more conventional and outwardly more successful career than his Viennese contemporary. His operas achieved instant popularity, while Mozart, with his more complex and far more innovative stage works, secured only moderate runs and mixed reviews. Posterity has made the telling judgment: Mozart's operas are universally performed and revered, 200 years after his death, while Devienne's are forgotten. But Devienne is remembered for other music: his concertos and "symphonies concertantes" are performed and recorded today, and his many chamber works, for a wide variety of combinations of woodwinds and strings, continue to delight both players and listeners. Although many of his duos, trios, and quartets involve the flute, he did not neglect oboists, clarinetists, bassoonists, or French horn players, and his repertory of wind chamber music is a vast performing resource.

The word "galant," often used to describe 18th-century music, does not translate particularly well into English. It implies grace, light-hearted charm, melodic inventiveness, and clear, uncomplicated harmonies: compositions that make no attempt to storm the heavens, but are intended to entertain us here on earth. The word applies quite accurately to the music of Devienne. His three Quartets for bassoon and strings, published as Op. 73, were re-scored and re-published as works for clarinet and strings; we'll hear tonight the original version of the Quartet No. 1 in C, a work brimming over with melody and good cheer, especially in its opening "Allegro spiritoso" (spirited) movement, which is then contrasted with a more pensive "Adagio cantabile" and an upbeat "Allegro moderato" conclusion.

Devienne made major contributions to the field of woodwind chamber music in an era when many composers still viewed the string quartet and the piano-violin-cello trio as the paramount chamber genres.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performed November 22 and 23, 1992



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