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Grétry traversant l'Achéron
André-Ernest-Modeste GRÉTRY (1741-1813)
Seizième leçon. Marche des accords avec des traits d'union et des fragments d'airs connus [02:36]
André-Erneste-Modeste GRÉTRY, arr Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812)
Ouverture de Zémire et Azor, arrangée pour le clavecin ou pianoforte avec l'accompagnement d'un violon ad libitum [04:07]
Armand-Louis COUPERIN (1727-1789)
Variations sur l'air "Que le sultan Saladin" de Richard Cœur-de-Lion [04:15]
André-Ernest-Modeste GRÉTRY, arr Jan Ladislav DUSSEK
Ouverture de Jugement de Midas, arrangée pour le clavecin ou pianoforte avc l'accompagnement d'un violon ad libitum [04:18]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
8 Variations on "Dieu l'amour" from the opera Les mariages samnites (KV 352) [14:38]
Dieudonné GAUBERT (1765-?)
Passage de l'Achéron par Grétry et sa réception aux Champs Élysiens, Mélange d'airs arrangés pour le forte-piano [14:09]
Alexandre-Pierre-François BOËLY (1785-1858)
Sept variations pour le piano avec accompagnement de violon obligé, sur l'air "La danse n'est pas ce que j'aime" dans l'opéra de Richard Cœur-de-Lion, opus 3 [09:31]
Félix GODEFROID (1818-1897)
"Une fièvre brûlante", duo de Richard Cœur-de-Lion de Grétry, transcription variée [04:46]
"Tandis que tout sommeille", sérénade de L'amant jaloux de Grétry, pour piano, opus 110 [03:58]
César-Auguste FRANCK (1822-1890)
2e Duo pour le piano à 4 mains su le quatuor de Lucile de Grétry, opus 17 [09:38]
Guy Penson (fortepiano, harpsichord), Sylvia Bernier (fortepiano), Dirk Vandaele (violin), Frédéric Dussenne (reciter)
rec. August, October 1999, Royal Conservatory Ghent, Belgium. DDD
CYPRÈS CYP3618 [73:05]


Experience Classicsonline

There was a time when there were no turntables or CD players. As not everyone was able to go to the opera to hear the fashionable works of their time, the only alternative was an arrangement of complete operas or parts of them for keyboard or for different kinds of ensembles, from piano trios to flute quartets or wind ensembles. The number of arrangements of an opera was an indication of the popularity and reputation of its composer. By that standard André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry was one of the most popular composers of the second half of the 18th century.

Grétry was born in Liège in the Southern Netherlands - now Belgium - where he had his first musical education as a choirboy in one of the city's churches. Later on he studied in Rome and worked for some time in Geneva. It was there that he became acquainted with the opéra comique which was to influence his career decisively. In Paris Grétry produced no less than six such works, which were very successful. In time Grétry rose to a position of wealth and influence. Although he had close ties with the French royal family he still had some success with his music after the Revolution of 1789, despite facing a change in public taste and needing to adapt his compositional style.

Grétry's popularity was not restricted to France. Apart from his native country, where he received official honours, his works were performed in Germany, Austria and Italy. This is also reflected in the arrangements: none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a series of variations on a chorus from Grétry's opera 'Les mariages samnites'. And Jan Ladislav Dussek arranged two overtures for keyboard with violin ad libitum. This is another sign of the reputation of Grétry, as Bohemian-born Dussek was one of the leading keyboard players in Europe and was soon to rise to prominence as a composer himself.

A special work in the programme is the 'Passage de l'Acheron par Grétry', written by Dieudonné Gaubert. He sang as an haut-contre in the Paris Opéra from 1798 to 1828 and in this capacity had participated in a number of performances of Grétry's works. His composition for keyboard and declamation is a tribute to the composer on the occasion of his death in 1813. It is a kind of 'Apothéose de Grétry' which describes how the composer crosses the Acheron and arrives in the Elysian fields where he is welcomed by the likes of Rameau, Gluck and Philidor.

Interestingly Grétry remained popular - or perhaps regained popularity - during the 19th century. This is testimony to the pieces by composers like Boëly and César Franck. Both were interested in the music of the 18th century, but - as Manuel Couvreur states in the programme notes - there was a political aspect to this Grétry revival too. "The quartet in Lucile, 'Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille?' ('Where is it better to be than in the bosom of one's family?') became a 'loyal air' under the Restoration. After Louis-Philippe's accession to the throne of France, the opéras-comiques that he had loved in his youth found renewed lustre".

In the case of Franck the fact that Grétry was of Belgian origin may have played a role as well. That was definitely the case with Félix Godefroid, who was from Namur and was mainly known as a brilliant player of the harp. But he also was an accomplished pianist, and he wrote two virtuosic fantasies on items from two of Grétry's operas.

The Belgian pianist Arthur De Greef transcribed a suite of 'Danses villageoises' in 1901, and that was probably the last time someone paid this kind of tribute to the composer Grétry. In our time he is still waiting to be recognized as one of the great opera composers of the late 18th century. It would be nice if this disc could play a part in such a process.

The artists have made a good choice of music which is played with zest and technical assurance. The use of period instruments, among them a piano by Érard from 1882 in the last three items, and the recording greatly contribute to the atmosphere of the drawing room where this kind of music was played. Anyone interested in this period of (French) music history should look for this disc.

Johan van Veen


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