The fertile Monsieur Boismortier composed light and pleasing things and all that he gave to the public quickly sold. He came at the right time ; people were avid for these pleasant trifles, which have a very attractive effect on the flutes and musettes : he took advantage of the current fashion, and made double use of his talent.
D’Aquin de Chateau-Lyon
Le Siecle litteraire de Louis XV, 1754
During the first half of the 18th century, chamber music blossomed inFrance. Nearly all French composers, from great geniuses to obscure provincial masters, wrote innumerable collections of suites, sonatas and various other pieces for the popular instruments of the day : the violin, flute, viola de gamba, harpsichord and rustic instruments like the musette and the hurdy-gurdy. The pieces were often written for prosperous bourgeois clients, many of whom were amateur musicians.
Though uneven in quality, this vast musical output shows a variety of musical instrumentation which would be impossible to find in Italian and German works of this era. Dance suites and character pieces continued to be the dominant forms, of course, but Italian influence had begun to assert itself in a certain taste for virtuosity and in the French adaptations of the sonata and the concerto. Combining all these elements, composers attempted, as Andre Campra wrote, “to meld the delicacy of French music with the vivacity of Italian music”.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, whose compositions consist almost exclusively of chamber music, is certainly one of the musicians who best represents the spirit of the time. Born in Thionville, Lorraineon December 23, 1689, he spent his youth in Metz, then moved to Perpignanbefore taking up permanent residence in Parisaround 1723. Nothing is known of his formal training , but we do know that early on he mastered both the violin and the flute, and that the latter remained his instrument of choice. In Paris, his output and reputation were such that he never needed to seek out the protection of the mighty, In fact, he held no official positions. This places him in a very exclusive group of 18th century musicians who were able to live, and live well, as freelancers. After a prosaic enough existence devoted to music and to his family, Boismortier died on October 28, 1755 at his estate at Roissy-en-Brie.
In addition ot some cantatas, cantatilles and motets, Boismortier wrote for instruments in all possible combinations, as illustrated by the pieces for two viols, or the sonatas for two bassoons, for three or five flutes without bass or “pour une flute et un violon par accords sans basse”. Among his contemporaries, there were suggestions that his music was excessively facile : the Abbe Raynal described him as “more abundant then learned” and in 1750, D’Aquin de Chateau-Lyon affirmed that “his reputation would have been unalloyed had he possessed the discretion to publish but a portion of his works”. Still, in 1780, almost 30 years after his death, and in an age when musical tastes were as fickle as the shifting breeze, Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, in his Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne, writes of Boismortier : “Even though his works be long forgotten, whoever might undertake the task of exploring this abandoned mine might well find enough flecks of gold to produce an ingot”.
Taken from the CD liner notes of:
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Six Sonatas for Flute and Harpsichord Op. 91
Claire Guimond, flute & Luc Beausejour, harpsichord
Written by Francois Filiatrault.
This CD is available from www.early-music.com.