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Joseph Bodin de Boismortier
In musical history, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (born at Thionville on Dec. 23, 1689 - died at Roissy-en-Brie on Oct. 28, 1734) is more than an exceptional figure.
Native from the suburbs of Berry, the modest Bodin family settled in Thionville where the compositors father, an ex-military officer, became a confectioner. Towards 1691, the family moved to Metz, where Boismortier was to receive his musical education. From who? We now know that it was Joseph Valette de Montigny (1665-1738), an accomplished motetist and not Henry Desmaret. Boismortier followed his Maître to Perpignan in 1713, in the heart of the catalan countryside... as a receiver for the Royal Tobacco Control, a responsability which was a far cry from any musical post! In 1720, Boismortier married Marie Valette, his teachers distant niece who came from a family of rich goldsmiths. Having kept this position for 10 years, the adopted catalan left several traces of his musical activity. Two of his airs (Airs à boire) were published by Ballard, Paris in 1721 and 1724 which proves that Boismortier had already composed a great number of his compositions in Perpignan which he tested on the parisian public from the heart of his catalan province.
On the recommendations of Viscount dAndrezel, Senior Comissariat Officer of Roussillon and the future ambassador of Roy in Constantinople, Boismortier tied up his then current affairs and settled with his wife and daughter at the Cour of the Duchesse du Maine in Sceaux, then in Paris, where he obtained his first privileged edition on the 29th of February 1724. He published his first manuels for flute duos and his first french cantatas whose manuscripts had been already floating around Paris for one year. This was the beginning of a prodigious career in the capital: a career as much admired as criticised. Jean-Benjamin de la Borde, the famous theorist and Boismortiers contemporary, painted a charming and realistic portrait of the composer in his Essay On Ancient And Modern Music (1780):
“ Boismortier existed in a time where music was liked to be simple and easy to listen to. This skillful musician made the most of this fashionable taste and composed a multitude of airs and duos for flute, violin, oboe, musette, hurdy gurdy... This was very successful ; but unfortunately he wasted two many of these bantering harmonics, some of which were peppered with pleasant outbursts. He so abused his numerous clients that at the end one said:
Bienheureux Boismortier, dont la fertile plume
Peut tous les mois, sans peine, enfanter un volume.
( Happy is he Good Sir Boismortier, whose prolific quill
Each month, with almost no pain, conceives a new ditty at will. )
In reply to the critics, Boismortier said “I'm earning money”. This musician was pleasant, ingenious and good company; he put together his verses like Scarron, several of which were well-known in society. ”
A verbose creator, we can only be surprised by the importance of this French musicians production: 102 works to which are added airs, separate scores, motets and a harmonic dictionary. He finally became a theorist, publishing a flute manual as well as one for the viola. Boismortier did not hesitate to follow the trends -certainly as a result of his taste for new experiences- and to compose for nearly every instrument. Today we rediscover his recently edited sonatas as well as the collections for musette and hurdy gurdy ; two pastoral instruments in vogue at the time. The major part of his work however remains dedicated to the flute which in the beginning of the 18th century, was ahead of the scene with the harpsichord.
He did not even neglect the voice for which he composed a quantity of serious airs, french cantatas, small motets, motets for a large choir, and of course, opera-ballets: Les Voyages de lAmour (1736), Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse (1743), Daphnis and Chloé (1747) and two non-reprensented works: Daphné (1748) and Les Quatre Parties du Monde (1752). Amongst others, a victim of the “Querelle des Bouffons”, he retired from the musical scene towards 1753. Boismortier owned a small property, La Gâtinellerie, in Roissy-en-Brie, where he ended his days at the age of 66, after having asked to be buried in the nave of the parish church.
In 1747, the abbey Raynal did not discribe Boismortier in very likeable terms:
“ This musician, more productive than knowledgeable, bad rather than mediocre, accomplished the same reputation in his work as the abbey Pellegrin. The latter was obliged to write verse to live and died a poet ; the former made a small fortune with the number of works he gave to the public. We buy them without valuing them ; they are only worth something to those who play instruments and to the several sad bourgeois who go to concerts to bicker about their neighbours. ”
It is true that 50,000 ecus earned from “harmonic productions” can make more than one jealous.
Boismortier matured in a bubbling Paris, inundated with Italian music with the impulsions of precursors such as Couperin, and caracterised by a lifestyle doted with pleasures that the Regent willingly encouraged. At this time, spacious rooms in appartments became very intimate and everything was pretty rather than beautiful; an infinite grace whose research sometimes rubbed shoulders with affectation. In music, the smallest whim became stately and long chaconne or knowledgeable germans, brought about a new fever. Boismortier noticed this change in sensibility and his work expressed it. And if Evrard Titon du Tillet in his last supplement of his “ Parnasse François ” (1756) referred to Boismortier as one of his most illustrious members “ heres to the memory of one of the most illustrious french poets and musicians ”, we must surely give back this composer who was once scorned his true place.
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