The devienne/mozart connection

François Devienne (1759-1803)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 73, Nr.1, en do majeur pour basson, violon, alto, et violoncelle
allegro spiritoso
adagio cantabile
rondo; allegro moderato

W.A. Mozart (1756 – 1791) “Un entracte de duettes”
from Sonate in F, KV 46e; allegro
from Duo in Bb, KV 424; andante cantabile
from Sonate in C, KV 46d; menuett II
from Sonate in Bb, KV292; rondo; allegro

prelude & fugue, kv 404a, no.2 in g minor, for string trio
fuga; allegro

François Devienne (1759-1803)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 73, Nr.3, en sol mineur pour basson, violon, alto, et violoncelle
allegro con espressione
adagio non troppo
rondo; allegretto; poco moderato

During his visit to Paris during the late 1770’s, Mozart must have heard many concerts at the Concert Spirituel. His symphony, KV 300a (‘Paris’) was in fact written for this first and most famous of concert societies. Very much in vogue at the time was the symphonie concertante, or concerto for two or more instruments. The Parisian audiences delighted in the theatrical and ostentatious interplay between soloists who competed in expressive power as much as in virtuosity. These works featured wind instrumentalists with greater frequency, including the often-performed music of François Devienne, then celebrated flautist and bassoonist, and later also pedagogue and composer of high regard. No doubt Mozart heard and absorbed in Paris a great deal of the style of symphonie concertante writing, especially for winds, which he would later use in his own compositions in this genre.
It is a very interesting comparison to hear compositions of Devienne alongside those of Mozart, as he shares many of the same elements of the same classical language. As contemporaries wrote of him, Devienne also composed very readily and painlessly, which one feels immediately in the easy inspiration and spontaneity of his musical ideas. The melodies are always lively with an infectious forward rhythmic impulse and natural logic of dimensions, creating a flowing line that avoids all rigidity at
phrase-ends and cadences. As charming and gracious as it is, the music is never superficial. Not only does Devienne display an excellent sense of humour, especially in the third movement rondos, but there are often moments of true drama and suspense. An interesting aside is that the well-loved, ubiquitously hummed and whistled aria from Devienne’s most successful opera, “Les Visitandines”(1792) later earned Devienne accusations of plagiary of a Papageno aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, the first ten notes being melodically identical. True or not, the comparison is flattering, especially as one of his early bassoon concerti was for many years time attributed to Mozart!

The first quartet of Devienne is clearly infused by the spirit of the symphonie concertante. The melodic material and bravura passage work is shared fairly equally between the “soloists” on bassoon and violin; the viola and cello are mostly in accompanying roles, though their lines are often independently interesting with the occasional solistic outburst.

Our suite of duets is assembled from two Sonatas for violin & bass, KV 46d-e, the Sonata for bassoon and cello, KB292, and the Duo for violin and viola KV 424. This presents a lighthearted opportunity to hear the varying colours of each instrument in different and seldom-heard pairings before the string trio is reunited in Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in g minor.

The six Adagios and Fugues, kV 404a, contain fugues transcribed for three voices from J.S.Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and the “Art of Fugue” as well as Adagios derived largely from Bach’s music. They display not only a reverence for the baroque master’s work, but also give a particularly interesting and specific insight into the ways in which Bach’s compositional style may have been integrated into the formal and expressive language of Mozart.

We remain in the sombre hued and passionate tonality of g minor in the quartet by Devienne which follows. The piece contains moments of soulfulness and real pathos, and one can hear that Devienne also was capable of much of the expressive depth and leanings to the romantic that is so characteristic of Mozart.