Joseph Bodin de Boismortier: Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse. © 2024 ATMA Records Inc


Charmfully Invigorating

GERALD FENECH listens to eighteenth century composer Boismortier's 'Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse'

'Matthias Maute and his Ensemble Caprice deliver performances of the utmost clarity ...'


Few eighteenth century composers earned a fortune solely by writing music, but Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755) did and would claim to be the first French man to sell his talents to the open market. By 1700, the spread of music printing and publishing in Europe, allied to the growth of amateur music-making, made substantial sales of new music possible, and Boismortier seized every opportunity for meeting the popular demand for tuneful, technically simple pieces for a wide variety of vocal and instrumental combinations.

Within a year of arriving in Paris in 1723, his first publications were on sale and by 1747 they had been followed by a-hundred-and-two works. This readiness to provide what the public wanted brought financial success and popularity but a certain amount of envious comment from the French cultural establishment as well: composers were not supposed to be businessmen.

In his 1750 essay Music, Early and Modern, Jean-Benjamin de la Borde, a contemporary of Boismortier, commented on the composer's ability to turn composition into a lucrative enterprise. Boismortier's response was simple and to the point: 'I make money.'

Following common practice of the time, Boismortier frequently scored for alternative instruments - for recorder, flute, oboe or violin, for example - thus increasing his sales potential. He was particularly industrious in writing for the flute and also published a flute method, now lost. At that time the flute was one of the most important instruments, and the mere imprint 'suitable for flute' was a guarantee for publishing success.

Rustic instruments, such as the musette (bagpipes) and veille (hurdy-gurdy), were also in vogue and Boismortier swiftly obliged by providing them with something easy to play. His output encompassed secular cantatas, motets, songs and just four stage works, of which the piece on this disc is one in that genre.

Listen — Boismortier: Ouverture (Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse)
(ACD2 2860 track 1, 1:03-1:36)
℗ 2024 Ensemble Caprice, under exclusive license to ATMA Records Inc :

He was also an innovator and the first French composer to adopt the Italian title 'concerto'. Indeed, he wrote the first French solo concerto for any instrument (in this case the cello) as well as a large number of flute sonatas and a set of unaccompanied concertos for three, four and five flutes.

Boismortier was extremely prolific, but much of what he composed, though pleasant enough, could hardly be considered significant. Still, at its best, it is very pleasant, tuneful, elegant and, by no means, naïve. In his Essay on Music, La Borde wrote:

Although his works have long been forgotten, anyone who takes the trouble to excavate them will find enough grains of gold dust there to make an ingot.

Today he might have been less grudging since much of Boismortier's work is still being published and continues to appeal to players of both modern and period instruments.

Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse is a comic ballet but, although it is considered as such, it is sung throughout to a libretto by Charles Simon Favart. It is for this reason that some classify this work as an opera.

Listen — Boismortier: Séjour funeste (Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse)
(ACD2 2860 track 11, 0:00-0:53)
℗ 2024 Ensemble Caprice, under exclusive license to ATMA Records Inc :

It was first performed on 12 February 1743 at the Academie Royale de Musique et de Dance in Paris, and with its comic subject based upon an episode in the Cervantes novel, in which a Duke and Duchess amuse themselves by creating an elaborate ruse to fool the dreaming Don, it was a substantial success with both critics and audiences of the time.

Listen — Boismortier: Divertissement (Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse)
(ACD2 2860 track 16, 3:04-4:01)
℗ 2024 Ensemble Caprice, under exclusive license to ATMA Records Inc :

Matthias Maute and his Ensemble Caprice deliver performances of the utmost clarity that reveal all the exquisite and graceful brushes of Boismortier's melodic palette, while the way the music is allowed to flow is charmfully invigorating.

Listen — Boismortier: Vole amour (Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse)
(ACD2 2860 track 27, 2:42-3:36)
℗ 2024 Ensemble Caprice, under exclusive license to ATMA Records Inc :

Nothing spectacular but worthy of serious investigation. Sound and presentation are first-rate.

Copyright © 27 February 2024 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta



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