Washington, DC -- style="margin: 0in 0in 0pt;">In 1815, Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of Napoleon, immigrated to the United States at the close of the Napoleonic Wars. He brought with him his collection of 18th-century French paintings, causing quite a sensation.
According to the National Gallery of Art: “Over the decades, appreciation of French 18th-century art has fluctuated between preference for the alluring decorative canvases of rococo artists such as François Boucher and Jean Honoré Fragonard and admiration of the sober neoclassicism championed by Jacques Louis David and his pupils.”
On May 21, 2017, the National Gallery of Art will open the exhibition America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting and in conjunction with the opening, the Marine Chamber Orchestra will present a concert of works by the noted French composers Jean-Phillippe Rameau and Jean-Marie Leclair, as well as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“While the newly founded United States of America was in its infancy, Baroque music was gradually giving way to Classical in Europe,” noted Assistant Director Capt. Ryan J. Nowlin. “It is through this musical lens that a glimpse of 18th century France, from both the internal and external vantage points, is offered.”
Rameau became one of the most influential composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. For much of King Louis XV’s reign, he dominated the French musical scene, replacing the revered Jean-Baptiste Lully. However, it was not until he was nearly 50 that he made his operatic debut, the genre on which his musical reputation now largely resides.
Les Indes Galantes was premièred in 1735 in Paris and continued to be performed both at the court and at the Opéra well into the 1770s. The four individual acts of the opéra-ballet are given a unifying theme by a mythological-allegorical introduction: Le Turc genereux (The Generous Turk), Les Incas du pérou (The Incas of Peru), Les Fleurs (The Flowers), and Les Sauvages (The Savages). But tracking down all 21 movements for this suite was no small task.
“While researching the program, Capt. Nowlin discovered a Franz Brugon recording of a suite from the opera-ballet and asked the Marine Band Library to locate the materials,” explains librarian Gunnery Sgt. Jennifer Mills. “For this event, we leveraged the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP), a virtual library of public domain scores. Fortunately, a YouTube video of the recording had a scrolling score, so we were able to check the search results against the score in the video. Over the next several months, we were able to edit the materials we found on IMSLP to suit our modern-day instrumentation, while still honoring the intentions of the composer.”
The second piece on the program comes from another influential composer of the Baroque era. Born in Lyon, France, Jean-Marie Leclair l’Aîné was a student of his father’s trade, braid-making. An artist at heart, he also studied violin and dance on the side, becoming ballet master at the Turrin Theater in 1722. A year later, Leclair left the theater for Paris where he published his first sonatas for violin launching him on his musical career.
First appearing in Paris in 1737 as a set of parts, Leclair’s Opus 7 is a collection of six concerti for violin. An addition to the beginning of the third concerto’s solo included remarks that the solo can be played on the German flute or oboe.
“I am excited to play a handmade Boehm system, wooden flute for the Leclair concerto,” notes soloist Gunnery Sgt. Ellen Dooley. “The flute has a modern scale and silver keywork. It is blended with Mopane wood, which provides a darker timbre that gives a nod to the baroque flutes of the past.”
The final selection on the program, Symphony No. 31 in D, K. 297, Paris, is one of Mozart’s more famous symphonies. In 1777, Mozart became discontented in Salzburg, Austria, and traveled to Mannheim, Germany, and later Paris in search of employment. While in these cities, he explored new forms of the genre.
“It was in Paris that Mozart expanded the orchestra from his 30th symphony by adding flutes, clarinets, and timpani, thereby enabling him to experiment with new orchestral colors,” notes Nowlin. “In fact, K. 297 was Mozart’s first symphony to make use of the clarinet. Additionally, Mozart returned to a three-movement symphony, considerably enlarging the first and last movements in comparison with his previous works.”
The concert will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 21 in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building in the East Garden Court. The event is free and no tickets are required. The collection, America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting, can be found on the main floor of the West Building. It contains 68 paintings that represent some of the best and most unusual examples of French art of that era held by American museums. For the complete program and notes, click here.