Friday, November 18, 2011

Boismortier - Bassoon Concerto

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was a French musician who was one of the first composers who had no patrons. In a time where a composer had to rely on the service of a royal court or church to make a living. Boismortier not only didn't have a patron, but he became wealthy on the sales of his published works. He obtained a royal license to engrave music in 1724, and went on to publish over 100 pieces of music.

Boismortier got his education from a composer of motets that lived in the area of France he grew up in. In adult life he married the daughter of a rich goldsmith and moved to Paris with his wife in to compose and engrave music.  He was the first French composer to write a concerto for solo instrument, and wrote in many different forms for instruments and voices.  Later in life he became a theorist and wrote instruction manuals for the flute and viola.

He had a knack for composing works thgat pleased the public thus he became a very popular composer. His compositions for voice alone sold enough copies to make him a wealthy man. That he was as much criticized as applauded is evident by what was written by Jean-Benjamin de la Borde, a music theorist and Boismortier contemporary. From his Essay On Ancient And Modern Music (1780):

"Boismortier lived in a time when people wanted music to be easy and pleasant 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... He was very successful in this, but unfortunately he wasted too many harmonies, some of which were peppered with pleasant outbursts.  He so abused his talent and numerous  clients that one of them once said:

"Happy is he, Good Sir Boismortier, whose prolific quill,
Each month with almost no pain conceives a new ditty at will"

In reply to his critics, Boismortier would say, "I'm earning money". This musician was pleasant, ingenious and good company." 

The Bassoon Concerto is in D major and was included in a collection of 5 sonatas. In all 6 works in the collection the solo instrument can be either cello, viola da gamba or bassoon, an example of how music in his time was written to be multi-purpose, something that Boismortier was more than happy to do as it would increase his sales. The concerto is in three movements: 

Boismortier knew the current trends and what was popular and didn't much care what his critics had to say as long as the public kept buying his music. He may not have been a composer that plumbed the depths of emotion in his works, but he was something of a trailblazer, a free lance musician in a time when that was unheard of.   

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