Joseph Bodin de Boismortier

1689 1755

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier

Composer

Biography

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier was a prolific and highly successful French composer of instrumental and vocal music in the eighteenth-century. He is one of few composers of this era to successfully work as a freelancer and publish his own music without a patron. He is known for his instrumental chamber music and for his contribution to flute repertoire.  

Boismortier was born in Thionville, Lorraine, France on 23 December 1689. He spent most of his childhood there before moving to Metz. It is thought that it is in Metz that he received his musical training from Joseph Valette de Montigny an adept composer of motets. In 1713, Boismortier wasreceveur de la régie royale de tabacsfor the Roussillon troops at Perpignan in the South of France. In November 1720, he married Marie Valette, the daughter of the city treasurer, Guillaume Valette. He stayed in Perpignan for a number of years before moving to Paris around 1723.

In September 1724, Boismortier took out a royal privilege to engrave his works. This allowed him to publish his own works. From 1743 to 1745 Boismortier held the positions ofsous-chef and then chef d'orchestre, leading the orchestra at the fair theatres of St Germain and St Laurent.

A music theorist who lived and worked in Boismortier's lifetime wrote: "Happy be Boismortier, who fertile pen can give birth without pain to a new piece of music every month." Boismortier's reply was "I'm earning money."

Boismortier became a prolific composer of very profitable works, allowing him to live a life of fame and luxury without holding an official post.  Most of Boismortier's music was written for amateur ensembles to cater for the needs of the bourgeoisie. He wrote music for various combinations of instruments such as a sonata for two bassoons or a sonata for three flutes. He also composed music for instruments that were popular at the time such as the hurdy-gurdy, musette (bagpipes) and the transverse flute. The transverse flute seemed to be a particular favourite of his as he greatly extended its repertoire. He also wrote a tutor

In Boismortier's instrumental music, he gives equal attention to the various parts, which can consist simply of a series of imitations. In his earliest Sonatas for Keyboard and Flute, Op. 91, both instruments are treated as being of equal importance - whereas the norm at the time was for the harpsichord to dominate. Boismortier also adopts the three-movement form - fast, slow, fast - favoured by Italian composers. Boismortier wrote concertos for a variety of instruments, some of which are for unusual ensembles such as his6 Concertos for Five Flutes, Op. 15. 

Boismortier successfully combines elements of the French and Italian styles in his motets and cantatas. His melodies were designed to appeal to the tastes of his audience and the virtuoso vocal writing in his motets is strongly influenced by the Italian style. His lost Christmas motetFugit Nox, which was based on well-known themes fromnoëls, was a favourite at the Concert Spirituel from 1743 to 1770.  

Boismortier also wrote works for the stage. His pastorale Daphnis et Chloé to a libretto by Pierre Laujon was performed in September 1747 and was well received at the Opéra. The pastorale proved to be so popular that it was parodied at the Comédie-Italienne under the titleLes Bergers de Qualité in a revival of the work on 4 May 1752. He also wrote two opéra-balletsLes Voyages de l'Amour (1736) and Don Quichotte chez la duchesse (1743). Don Quichotte chez la duchesseis considered to be the most important original work of the two opéra-ballets.  The three-act ballet-comique based on a libretto by Charles Simon Favart was his Opéra debut. It was inspired by an episode from Miguel de Cervantes’ novelDon Quixote. In the episode, a Duke and Duchess stage imaginary fantastical adventures featuring monsters, enchanters and giants to deceive Don Quixote for their own entertainment, all of which Don Quixote believes to be real. Antonio Caldara had already written an opera on this episode in 1727 and 1730 calledSancio Panza. 

Boismortier composed over 100 works for various different combinations of instruments and voices before his death. He died at his estate, La Gâtinellerie at Roissy-en-Brie on 28 October 1755.

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