Hidden Gems: Oboe Sonatas of the French Baroque

My 2009 recording of French Baroque Sonatas is available on CD Baby, https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/margaretmarco and on Etsy.  It includes works by Nicolas Chedeville, Jacques Christophe Huguenet, Jacques-Christophe Naudot and Jean-Francois Bouin. Rebecca Bell, harpsichord, Mattew Herren, cello and Barbara Bishop, oboe (Naudot).

Hidden Gems CD cover

Album Notes
It is possible that the works on this CD have not been performed for 300 years. This is the first professional recording of these charming, evocatively colorful and, until now, cloistered sonatas. Not published in modern editions, the original prints of these works reside in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris where hundreds of such works from the Baroque period remain inaccessible to most oboists. This music from eighteenth-century France represents one of the most fertile eras of repertoire development for the oboe, yet it is also one of the most neglected by modern scholars and performers. Many of the pieces in this collection are well crafted and certainly worthy of performance. Besides being invaluable artistic works, these compositions could serve as excellent pedagogical pieces for teaching French Baroque performance practice. The intention of this CD is to bring this exceptional and currently untilled collection of music and its composers to the attention of modern oboists. 

Nicolas Chedeville (1705-1782) was a celebrated musician, remembered both as a prolific composer and a champion of the musette, a favorite wind instrument of his day. He came from a long line of instrument makers and musicians. For the last fifty years of his life, he was a member of the Douze Grands Hautbois, an élite group of oboists and bassoonists who performed for military and state ceremonies during the reigns of Kings Louis XIV and XV. 

The Sixième Sonate from his Troisième livre d’amusements champêtres was composed sometime before 1733 for musette, hurdy-gurdy, flute, oboe or violin and bass continuo. It was not uncommon for French composers of this time to list three, and often more, instruments on the title page of their work, perhaps to sell as many copies of their music as possible; composers were indifferent to the instruments on which their pieces were performed.Eighteenth-century wind musicians customarily negotiated both oboe and flute with equal ease and often owned more than one instrument.
The works on this CD, distinctive as they are, have certain commonalities. Eighteenth-century sonatas, typically written in collections of six, contained both French and Italian characteristics in varying degrees. Though hinting at Italian stylistic features found in Chedeville’s later works, the Op. 3 sonatas still present a distinctive French flavor, characterized by simple rhythms and textures, use of binary or rounded binary form with sectional repeats, and comparatively little sequential passage work. Many of the works demonstrate a preference for dance-inspired forms such as the courante, rigaudon, menuet, and tambourine. All of the sonatas in Chedeville’s third book, or Op. 3, are for solo treble instrument. 

Chedeville had a predilection for colorful and often programmatic movement titles, as did many of his contemporaries. The operas of Lully did much to establish the oboe as the instrument best suited to represent all things arcadian. The names of sonata collections often alluded to a light-hearted or pastoral nature, as in Amusements champêtres (Rustic Amusements) or Festes champêtres (Pastorale Celebrations). Movement titles included La Rivier d’hier (The River of Yesterday), Dans noir bois (In the Dark Woods), or Entrèe de bergers (Entrance of the Shepherds). Pastoral themes were all the rage in the middle of the century. Instruments such as oboes, musettes, flutes, and hurdy-gurdies came into vogue between 1730 and 1740. These instruments were often made of ebony and ivory and were decorated with brightly colored ponpoms. As a popular pastime at Court, royalty donned the costumes of shepherds and played their pastoral instruments of choice for a hearty evening’s entertainment. 

French compositions of the early 1800s often featured ornate, elaborate title pages or avertissements that contained a wealth of information, including the work’s title, possible instruments on which it could be performed, the publisher’s name and address (complete with directions to the publisher’s office if the address was not obvious), the composer’s name with a biographical word or two, the dedication, and an ornate border or picture etched around the text. Another important feature of the title page was the date of privilege: the date on which the composer received permission from the court to publish. The second page of the print included a lengthy and humble dedication to the composer’s patron who was customarily a member of the French aristocracy. The date of privilege and the dedication are historically significant. They provide the work’s approximate date of composition, and, based on the social standing of the dedicatee, a way to assess the demand for a particular composer’s work. From Nicolas Chedeville’s title pages, we learn that he was a composer in demand with commissions from several wealthy patrons. 

Jacques Christophe Huguenet (1680-1729) was a French violinist and composer. He studied with Jean-Noël Marchand and followed his father and uncle into royal service as a violinist when he entered the chapelle in 1704. He was made an ordinaire of the Royal Chamber in 1710 and was a member of the Petits violons. His Premier oeuvre de sonates, six for violin and continuo, six for two violins and continuo, dedicated to King Louis XV, was published in Paris in 1713. The Italian leanings in this work are demonstrated by florid, sometimes virtuosic, sequential passage work, Italian tempo markings, lack of dance-inspired movements, adherence to a four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast sonata form, chains of suspensions, and a more adventurous harmonic vocabulary.
Little is known about Jean-Francois Bouin, including his birth and death dates. From the title page of his works we know that he was a publisher and teacher of the vielle (hurdy-gurdy), for which he wrote a treatise. The date of privilege for this opus was April 26, 1748. 

Jacques-Christophe Naudot (1690-1762) was well known in Paris as a flutist. The dedications he wrote in his works show that he had many aristocratic pupils and patrons. He is best known for influencing French flute music of his day by the virtuosity of his compositions and for popularizing the Italian solo concerto in French woodwind literature. His works, which comprise some of the most rewarding pieces produced by the French flute school, were reprinted many times and were appreciated by amateur players of his day. 

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