In the second half of the 18th century the growing
market of amateur musicians encouraged composers to write music which
could be played in domestic surroundings. Whereas the string quartet
soon developed into a genre for professional players, music for a wind
instrument and strings was mostly written for amateurs. Quartets were
most common, but trios were also written, although they were in the
François Devienne was a popular composer in his time. He was
from the Haute-Marne and was educated at the flute and the bassoon.
In 1779 he joined the orchestra of the Paris Opéra as a bassoonist
and in the first half of the 1780s he was at the service of a Cardinal.
At that time he presumably became a member of the Loge Olympique which
performed, among others, Haydn's Paris
symphonies. He also appeared
at the Concert Spirituel where he performed some of his concertos for
flute and for bassoon respectively. In the 1790s he was principal bassoonist
of the Théâtre de Monsieur, a position he held until 1801.
In 1794 he published a method for the one-keyed flute, which includes
much information about playing technique and performance practice. When
in 1795 the Conservatoire was established Devienne was appointed as
professor of flute.
Devienne was a versatile composer who was especially known for his music
for the stage, his concertos and sinfonias concertante as well as his
chamber music. When he died in 1803 his obituary stated that "his quartets
are played everywhere". It was probably due to his being a workaholic
that he spent his final months in a mental hospital. However, Mathieu
Lussier, in his liner-notes, asks: "Was it just workaholism that drove
Devienne mad, or was it also those dangerous years of political maneuvering,
jumping from one ship to another at the right moment?" Apparently Devienne
had a good sense of what was appropriate as he survived the political
turbulence of the late 1790s.
The trios op. 17 recorded here bear the traces of diverting music as
it was so frequently produced at the time. Among those traces are that
they have only two movements, mostly in fast tempi. Only two trios have
a slow movement, none of them is in a minor key. Two trios end with
a rondo, two others with a set of variations. These are two of the most
popular forms in Devienne's time. Another notable feature is the repetition
of notes, especially in passages where one instrument - for instance
the cello - has the role of accompaniment.
The division of roles between the instruments is different. Often the
bassoon has the lead, but there are also passages in which the violin
comes forward. The instruments sometimes imitate each other; at other
moments they play in parallels. There are also episodes in which the
bassoon is involved in a dialogue with the two strings.
The disc ends with three extracts from a comic opera, which Lussier
has arranged for bassoon and string trio. They shed light on a significant
part of Devienne's oeuvre: music for the stage. I can't remember ever
having heard any of that. These extracts suggest that it is well worth
Lussier has recorded some of Devienne's music before: his Quartets op.
73. It is good to notice that he is not carried away by the music of
his 'hero'. In his liner-notes he admits that "[one] senses, sometimes,
the absence of the viola", and "the almost complete absence of slow
movements (...) almost makes the set of pieces too homogeneous (...)".
Later he notices an "occasional awkwardness". In his assessment he is
refreshingly down-to-earth, which is much to be preferred over the sometimes
over-the-top judgements of interpreters who suggest that the music they
have discovered is something we can't do without.
Lussier states that this music "deserves a place in the repertoire of
bassoon chamber music". I share this view as I have greatly enjoyed
these trios. That is also due to the lively and engaging performances
by Lussier and his colleagues. They play modern instruments in 'period
style'. I wonder, though, whether the use of a period bassoon would
have made this recording even better. The Quartets op. 73 were also
recorded by Jane Gower with her ensemble island (review
In the liner-notes to that recording she emphasizes the importance of
using a period instrument. "Each chromatic note (...) has to be fingered
by means of complicated cross-fingering patterns, each having its own
specific tone-colour and attack." On a modern instrument Devienne's
music is just "nice", in her view. A comparison between that recording
and the present one proves her right, despite the difference in repertoire.
That said, this disc will most certainly appeal to lovers of the bassoon
and many others who just love good musical entertainment.
Johan van Veen