CHAUVON – Les nouveaux bijoux

Francois Chauvon (fl. 1710-40) was an oboist and student of Francois Couperin, to whom he dedicated his set of suites and sonatas entitled Tibiades in 1717. Little information about Chauvon survives beyond the sonatas, suites, cantatas and other vocal works he published between 1712 and 1736. Chauvon himself seems to have regarded the pieces presented in Tibiades as an important achievement in the creation of a new style, for he designated them as a “new genre” of works. Perhaps he had in mind stylistic diversity within the works and the innovative instrumentation he suggested for them. Chauvon specifies that some of the works are for flute and oboe, and that some are sonatas for violin on the title page of the collection, but then gives no indication as to which instrument or combination of instruments should play on each individual movement. The designation “pièces pour la flûte, et le hautbois” contrasts with the more standard wording that offers the performer a choice among several instruments of similar range. For instance, Pierre Danican Philidor’s Troisiéme Oeuvre (1718) contains suites for “les Hautbois, Flûtes, Violons, etc.”   In Les Nouveaux Bijoux, we have taken Chauvon’s wording as an invitation to create various ensemble combinations featuring the instruments he specifies along with harpsichord as continuo and bassoon playing both on the continuo line and, where appropriate, on the dessus.

The influence of the Italian concertato texture, with its juxtaposition of tutti and solo, was felt keenly in France in the early eighteenth century. As is the case here, the scores were often vague, neither giving indication of tutti and solo sections nor indicating how many would play on a part. Even genre distinctions such as suite, sonata, concerto, and symphony, when they were given at all, were applied loosely. Records and descriptions indicate that practices we now associate firmly with the concerto, for instance, were applied to works we would think of as sonatas or suites. This freedom of instrumental choice and combination is integral in our conception of Chauvon’s Tibiades. The instrumental choices project the character embodied in the score in terms of key association – the G minor suite with the oboe, for instance. But Chauvon also follows the French passion for programmatic music and specifically Couperin’s example from the Ordres for keyboard in providing descriptive subtitles for many movements. Some are generic character descriptions. The Allemande in the G Major suite is “La déterminée,” which Richelet defines as “a spiteful, fanatical, quick-tempered, boastful, reckless, and extravagant” person. Others, like the G minor Sarabande en Rondeau, “La Mélancholique,” depict emotional states.  Still others suggest portraits of actual individuals, such as the Chaconne en Rondeau in the D minor suite, named “La Besson,” likely after Michel-Gabriel Besson (ca. 1689-1765), a court musician and composer of a volume of violin sonatas (1720). Finally there are those that embody forces of nature such as the rough gusts of wind in “Les Tourbillons,” from the suite in G major.

The Suite in D major demonstrates our approach to these works. The Prelude uses the combination of flute and oboe in unison and solo bassoon as melodic instruments. The Courante features the oboe alone on the melodic line, while in “La Samaritaine,” a depiction of an elaborate fountain, the flute plays the melody with violin on the continuo line. The Chaconne employs the concerto texture with solo turns for all of the treble instruments contrasting with tutti passages in the refrain. The concluding Allemande again features flute and violin. This contrast of timbre, texture, and instrumentation embodies the innovation, artistry, and variety of Chauvon’s Tibiades.

Tom Owens

Information on Chauvon’s movement descriptions drawn from Jean Saint-Arroman and Philippe Lescat, “Introduction” to Tibiades (Edition Fuzeau, 1995), 5-10.