Jacques Duphly and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - one unlikely combination. Leopold Mozart took his son and his daughter Nannerl on a tour across Europe during which they visited Paris. That was in 1763 when Duphly was living and working there. However, there is no evidence that they ever met; the liner-notes to this disc don't mention any meeting. So what, then, is the connection?
The link between Duphly and Mozart is the music which the two artists have brought together. These are pieces for keyboard - and at that time that was the harpsichord - with a violin ad libitum. This means that this music can be played on the keyboard alone or with a violin if the performers wish. This was a popular genre in Paris at the time, and it seems to have inspired Mozart to write such music himself.
There is a second connection. The Mozarts were received by Victoire, the second daughter of Louis XV who organised events in her salon and was a competent player of the harpsichord. Duphly dedicated his second book of harpsichord pieces (1748) to her. It was also to Victoire that Mozart dedicated his two first sonatas for keyboard and violin which were published in Paris as his op. 1 (KV 6 and 7). However, there is some doubt about their authenticity. Only a selection of movements have been preserved as autographs, and they are in the handwriting of Leopold. He included them in the notebook for Nannerl as pieces for harpsichord, without any indication of a violin part. The same goes for the sonatas KV 8 and 9 which were printed in Paris as Mozart's op. 2. This fact should have been mentioned in the booklet.
The genre was not that old when Mozart was in Paris. The harpsichord had a long tradition as a solo instrument. In ensemble with singers or instruments its role was confined to the realization of the basso continuo. Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the first composer in France to write music in which the harpsichord had a concertante role in instrumental music. His six sonatas for harpsichord and violin op. 3 were printed in 1734. He inspired several other composers to write for keyboard with additional instruments. These instrumental parts were mostly ad libitum. That is also the case in one of the main contributions to this genre, the Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau which were published in 1741. These can be played by the harpsichord alone, but if the performers wish they can add a violin or transverse flute and a viola da gamba. Another composer of music for keyboard with instruments ad libitum was Johann Schobert, a German-born composer who worked in France since about 1760. Mozart greatly admired him and was influenced by his sonatas.
Jacques Duphly published his third book of harpsichord pieces in 1756. At that time he was a highly reputed harpsichordist. He had started his career as an organist in his birthplace Rouen, but in 1742 moved to Paris as he felt that his playing was better suited to the harpsichord than the organ. In Paris he soon rose to the status of one of the main harpsichordperformers and acted as a teacher in the highest circles. His first book of harpsichord pieces was printed in 1744, his fourth and last in 1768. In the third book he included the six pieces for harpsichord with a part for violin ad libitum which are included here.
The relatively subservient role of the violin doesn't mean that it has nothing to contribute. It mostly plays with the right hand of the keyboard which in repertoire of this time is the main part. In such cases it adds colour and dynamic shading which the harpsichord can't produce itself. Sometimes the violin plays with the bass part, which is far less substantial. That is the case, for instance, in the first menuet from Mozart's sonata KV 9 where it does little more than repeat the same note a number of times.
Mozart's early sonatas are sometimes performed with a fortepiano of about thirty years later. That is quite odd and does them scant justice. Here the performers have found the right approach: a harpsichord and a violin which blend perfectly and voice the intimate and elegant character of these sonatas. The same is true of the pieces by Duphly which are all - in line with the fashion of the time - character pieces. The interpreters play very well and Stéphanie-Marie Degand takes the opportunities to add something extra now and then. The only aspect which I am not totally satisfied with is the balance: the violin has a little too much presence in comparison to the harpsichord. However, on the whole this is hardly an issue.
Considering that the Duphly pieces are not often recorded and that Mozart's sonatas are too often - if at all - played on rather inappropriate instruments this disc deserves an enthusiastic reception.
Johan van Veen