Saturday, November 3, First Parish, Sudbury
Sunday, November 4, Old South Church, Boston
Flute Quartet in D Major, op. 14, no. 1 François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829)
Larghetto • Allegro moderato • Tempo di Minuetto
Marche des Marseillois et l’Air Ça-ira for harpsichord Claude Balbastre (1724-1799)
Trio in D Major, op. 1, no. 3 Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818)
Allegro cantabile • Menuetto (grazioso) – Allegro assai
String Quartet in A Major, op. 2, no. 6 Antonio Sacchini (1730-1786)
Largo sostenuto • Fuga Allegro spirituoso • Menuetto espressivo
Flute concerto in D Major Niccolò Piccinni (1728-1800)
Spirituoso • Andante maestoso • Allegro con brio
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord
Thomas Jefferson wrote that music “furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life,” testifying about the importance that music held for him. Jefferson was an amateur violinist who grew his own substantial chamber music library over the course of his life. His time in Paris as a U. S. ambassador in the 1780s brought him the opportunity to take in the rich musical culture of the city. His Memorandum Books of expenses document a monthly fortepiano rental, music acquisitions, and numerous ticket purchases for the Concert Spirituel in Paris, one of the first public concert series in existence. In 1785 alone, he attended multiple performances on the series, hearing works by four of our featured composers—Gossec, Sacchini, Sirmen and Piccinni. Balbastre, the remaining composer we present, was engaged as a harpsichord teacher for his daughters.
François-Joseph Gossec was a prominent opera composer and conductor. He was the first director of the École royale de chant (Royal School of Singing). Newly founded in 1784, it was a precursor to the Paris Conservatory. He was a successful and prolific composer of instrumental music, including symphonies and chamber music. Jefferson heard one of his works on the Concert Spirituel on August 15, 1785. The flute quartet selected for this program is from his op. 14 published in 1770, his only opus for that instrumental combination. It is set in the popular three movement format, ending with a minuet, and is full of lively dialogue shared nearly equally among the instruments.
Providing good musical education for both daughters had always been important to Jefferson, and while in Paris, he sought out one of the city’s finest harpsichordists, Claude Balbastre, for Patsy’s (and later Polly’s) tutelage. Compositions of Balbastre surely became part of both daughters’ repertory given that they studied with him and that the family owned copies of two of his opuses. One of Balbastre’s last performances was his arrangement of La Marseillaise. This spirited set of variations contains elements of program music, depicting fiery combat, the flight of the enemies, the roar of canon and, appending the variations, a joyful victory dance titled Ça ira.
Jefferson heard works by Antonio Sacchini on Concert Spirituel programs in August and December of 1785. Among his other concertgoing activities was the Paris Opera, where he heard operas by Sacchini, one of the scene’s rising stars, while attending performances with the painter Maria Cosway. His string quartet no. 6 in A Major is from a set published in 1781. It contains a lively and erudite fugue, an unusual movement type for a French quartet of this period.
Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen was born to poverty-stricken parents and began her studies at the age of seven at San Lazaro dei Mendicanti, which trained orphaned girls in music in Venice. Due to her considerable talent, she was given permission to leave the hospice for periods of time to study with the violin virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini. At the age of 21, Lombardini was awarded her maestro license and allowed to pursue a musical career outside of Venice. At that time, she married the renowned violinist Ludovico Sirmen, and the couple began touring together. She soon established a reputation as one of the finest violinists and composers ever taught in a Venetian orphanage. Her touring career took her to Paris, London, and even as far away as Russia. Her final concerts in Paris were in 1785 when Thomas Jefferson was living there, and he is known to have purchased tickets to her performance on the Concert Spirituel on May 5, 1785. The Trio in D Major is an inventive work with clever dialogue between the three instruments, shared virtuosic demands, and dramatic surprises. An unusual feature of the work is its Minuet, in which its trio unexpectedly alternates with a brash and brilliant section in duple meter.
Niccolò Piccinni was one of the leading opera composers of the 18th century—he became a widely-recognized leader of opera buffa (comic opera). He was brought to Paris by Queen Marie Antoinette. Jefferson heard his works at both the Paris Opera and on the Concert Spirituel. He also consulted Piccinni for advice about purchasing a fortepiano for Patsy. We include Piccinni’s sparkling and colorful flute concerto in D Major on our program—one of his very few surviving instrumental works. The lively opening movement unfolds like an opera overture with its introduction of characters. Both outer movements are imbued with dramatic rhetoric and playful banter while the center movement is set like a sentimental aria.
—Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf