Sonata in G Major, Opus 50 No. 2 by Joseph Bodin Boismoriter (1689-1755)
Boismortier was born in France, but despite his prolific number of compositions, very little is known about the composer’s early life.1 It was only recently established that Boismortier was born in Lorrraine at Thionville in 1689.2 The lack of information about a personal life is disconcerting to scholars because he was popular during his lifetime. Boismortier was one of the first composers to write without the support of a specific patron. Instead, he made his living writing new works and marketing them to amateur players. His prolific output created his livelihood even if the critics disparaged him for it. In 1780 Jean-Benjamin de la Borde, a music theorist and Parisian critic wrote:
Bienheureux Boismortier, dont la fertile plume peut tous les mois, sans peine, enfanter un volume.3
(Happy be Boismortier whose fertile pen can give birth without pain to a new piece of music every month.)
Because his livelihood was dependent on selling compositions, many of Boismortier’s works were written for the possibility of multiple instrumentation combinations. For example, the six sonatas that comprise Opus 26 (1729) were originally composed for the cellist Labbé but were marketed to be played by cello, viol, or bassoon. Unlike many of the other composers of the period, Boismortier also wrote in both the Italian Concerto style and in the French School. This made him a prime candidate for criticism during the Querelle des Bouffons, which took place in Paris from 1752 and 1754. The Querelle des Bouffons was a clash between Italian and French operatic traditions.4 It is believed that his use of both styles in composing and the resulting irrational condemnation brought about his decision to retire.2
The Sonata, Opus 50 was completed by 1734, at the height of his fame as a composer. The original manuscripts survive and are archived at the British Museum and the Bibliotheque National de Paris.5 The Opus 50 includes six sonatas and were written for cello, viols, or bassoon and basso continuo.
Sonata Opus 50, No. 2 is comprised of four movements. Three of the four movements are in binary form; only the third movement differs with a Rondo form. The other three movements have repeated sections that, in the Baroque tradition, allow the performer to add embellishments.6 The most intricate embellishments are added to the first movement, Largo. The most used embellishments in the fast movements are appoggiaturas, trills, or mordents because the quick tempo does not allow for more complex passage additions; the slower tempo in the first movement allows the performer more freedom in choice of embellishments. For example, the first few bars of the Largo are in Figure 1. When the same figure is repeated, Figure 2, trills are added to the first two quarter notes (crotchets) and the dotted figure at the end of the second bar is adapted to become a written-out turn in sixteenth notes (semi-quavers).
Figure 1: First two bars of Sonata Op. 50, No. 25
Figure 2: Repeat of first two bars of Sonata Op. 50, No. 2
Embellishments are at the discretion of the performer. Performers adept in the Baroque style will not write-out the embellishments they plan to use and will instead make them up as the performance unfolds.
The second movement is an Allemanda: Allegro. The term Allemanda is from the French dance suite.7 The Allemanda was originally the first movement of a dance suite, but around the time of Bach (1685-1750) and his famous cello suits, the Allemanda was moved to the second movement and was preceded by a Prelude. The Allemanda in Opus 50, No. 2 is also the second movement. The simple duple melody is in two parts with both parts repeated. The movement also has octave-leaping passagework similar to that utilized by Vivaldi (1678-1741) in his many Concertos for bassoon. Boismortier utilizes the cleaver ideas employed by the greats before him in this playful Allegro.
The third movement, Largo, contrasts sharply with the preceding movements. The accompaniment is more simplistic and the harpsichord uses the lute stop to thin out the texture, creating a completely different sound quality. The bassoon line is extremely delicate and intimate. The main theme is played twice through at the beginning of the movement. The main theme returns three other times in the movement, interspersed with contrasting material.
Where the second movement’s term was French in nature, Boismortier’s mixture of the French and Italian styles is illustrated in Opus 50, No. 2, by utilizing an Italian dance suite term as the title for his fourth movement, giga.8 Giga were traditionally in a compound meter and were very popular dances. This happy dance motif is similar to the compound meters in Vivaldi concerti. The Italian Giga differs from the French Gigue by having a more simplistic harmonic rhythm and continuous/predictable phrase structure.8 Boismortier utilizes not only the Italian term but the final movement of Opus 50, No.2 also incorporated the ideals of the Italian style.
Though often seen as a simple sonata, Opus 50, No. 2 showcases many of the compositional techniques that distinguish Boismortier. The work was written for multiple instrumental combinations. The work uses both French and Italian styles. And the melodies are beautiful, playful, and enjoyable for both performer and listener.
1. Lescat P. Boismortier, Joseph Bodin de. In: Sadie S, Levy M, eds. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians. Vol 3. Second ed. London; New York: Macmillan; Grove; 2001:808-810.
2. Boismortier: Sonatas for Two Bassoons and Continuo: MSR Classics; 2006.
3. Borde J-Bdl. Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne. http://books.google.com.au/books?id=YuBLh2BgC68C&pg=PA24-IA3&ots=rT0i_TW7hw&dq=Essai+sur+la+musique+ancienne+et+moderne&lr=#PPA1,M1. Accessed 16 May, 2009.
4. Thomas DA. Music and the origins of language: Theories from the French Enlightenment. http://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=-EMDeMoEjZMC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=Querelle+des+Bouffons&ots=jjvl9uEy8J&sig=Q-Kj4vJX-3oMmDjmD85F58iMrEQ#PPA4,M1. Accessed 17 May 2009, 2009.
5. Boismortier JB. Two Sonatas Opus 50. Monteux, France: Musica Rara; 1985.
6. Lasocki D, Mather BB. The Classical Woodwind Cadenza. New York: McGinnis & Marx; 1978.
7. Little ME, Cusick SG. Allemande [allemand, almain, alman, almond]. Oxforf Music Online [http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/search~S4?/Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D/Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D&SUBKEY=new%20grove%20online/1,51,51,B/l856~b2536081&FF=Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D&2,2,,1,0. Accessed 19 May, 2009.
8. Little ME. Gigue. Oxford Music Online [http://opac.library.usyd.edu.au/search~S4?/Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D/Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D&SUBKEY=new%20grove%20online/1,51,51,B/l856~b2536081&FF=Xnew%20grove%20online&SORT=D&2,2,,1,0. Accessed 19 May, 2009.
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