In France, 1740, the aristocratic violist da gamba, abbot and lawyer, Hubert Le Blanc wrote a strange book, published in Amsterdam by Pierre Mortier entitled “Défense de la basse de viole contre les enterprises du violon et les prétentions du violoncello” (Defense of the bass viol contrary to the enterprises of violin and the pretensions of the violoncello.)
Who could be interested in a sarcastic and eccentric book with cultivated arguments applauding the wonders of the family of viols, yet disparaging the ever-increasing popular violin and cello?
What lay behind this harmless conflict?
The viols were an emblem of the aristocracy. Instruments attributed with an ease of playing a refined melancholic language which was suitable for events in the halls of castles and reserved for guests of prestige.
The performers of viols did not need to impress the audience with flashy or very difficult artistry. Performances comprised of lyrical, polyphonic passages with few sixteenth notes and no necessity to go into the treble. It was acceptable to use the smaller viola and always remain in the harmonious sounds of the first position. This display of skill was considered the virtue of a plebeian.
But enter the Italians, les buffons, with their wagon theaters and their comic operas, larmoyant. All you could access. It was enough to pay admission. The artists, in order to survive, had to impress with their skill. They bring their violins and cellos with powerful sounds and skills of unmatched speed, doubles and exaggerated extensions.
French musicians leave their violas and to learn from Neapolitans, Romans or Venetians.
This is a great insult and come one, two, three querelle des buffons.
The Enlighteners don’t wait.
Yet, an anti-aristocratic Diderot (1713-1784), more concerned with music, defended vigorously the Italian style.
Since Bastille Day in 1789, marking the beginning of the revolution and the extermination of the nobility, there was an immediate decline of viol and a triumphant advance of the new instruments of the bourgeois society.
This album is the story of this change.
Music by: Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Michel Corrette, Jean Baptiste Sèbastien Brèval, Jean Barrière, Martin Berteau.
It was made for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Diderot and in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise.
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