Although well known in his day, the music of French baroque composer Jean-Joseph de Mondonville has, nowadays, mostly been forgotten. Join us this hour on Harmonia as we explore the music of a man who, in his day, enjoyed fame, fortune, and the patronage of one of Louis XV’s most important mistresses, Madame de Pompadour. Our featured release is a 2017 recording of Mondonville’s opera Isbé.
Music from Mondonville’s opera Isbé, the aria “L’Amour nous cède la victoire.”
“If I couldn’t be Rameau…”
“If I couldn’t be Rameau,” the French composer Pierre-Louis Daquin wrote, “there’s no one I would rather be than Mondonville.” Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was born in 1711, in Narbonne, in the southwest of France, to an aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. He most likely received his early musical education from his father, who was employed as organist of Narbonne Cathedral. As a boy, he learned to play the violin, which ultimately brought him to Paris in 1731. By 1734, the Mercure de France was praising him for his virtuosity. The young Mondonville would ultimately grow up to become one of the most outstanding French musicians of the 18th century.
We heard Mondonville’s sacred motet “Regna terrae, Cantate Deo,” performed by harpsichordist Luc Beausejour, soprano Shannon Mercer, and violinist Hélène Plouffe. That motet comes from the collection entitled Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon, and indeed, they are as described – harpsichord pieces, where the harpsichord, instead of just serving as an accompanying instrument, has, in fact, the most important part, while the violin line is described by the composer as “optional”! The composer also notes that the vocal line can be played on a violin, or if necessary, omitted completely. Mondonville may have written these pieces to perform with his wife, who was both a harpsichordist and a virtuoso soprano.
The Grand Motet
The grand motet, a genre so specific to Mondonville that very few other composers are even credited with having written one, was a favorite of Mondonville’s. His grands motets were singlehandedly credited with reviving what was, at the time, a dying genre. This large-scale form, usually featuring a sacred text or texts, typically calls for double choir and a full orchestra. We’ll hear Dominus regnavit, which was so popular in its day that it was performed two to four times a year at the Concert Spirituel, for twenty straight years!
We heard Mondonville’s grand motet, Dominus regnavit, performed by Les Arts Florissants, under the direction of William Christie.
Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon
In addition to his work as a composer, Mondonville was, by training and trade, a highly-regarded virtuoso violinist. In addition to his many vocal pieces, he also wrote a great deal of instrumental chamber music. Let’s hear music from one of his violin sonatas, performed by harpsichordist Luc Beausejour and violinist Hélène Plouffe.
We heard selections from Mondonville’s violin sonata no. 4 in C major, performed by harpsichordist Luc Beausejour and violinist Hélène Plouffe.
Mondonville’s first stage work, the opera Isbé, premiered in 1742 – to an underwhelming reception. Really, it was considered kind of a failure. The pastorale héroïque, in five parts, features a plot which concerns the passions of the chief Druid, Adamas, who develops kind of a thing for Isbé. Luckily, the cold reception didn’t deter its unlucky composer too much, and he went on to write many more stage works, including the 1754 opera Daphnis et Alcimadure, for which he wrote his own libretto – in Languedocien!
Let’s hear some music from Isbé, from a 2017 recording by the Purcell Choir and the Orfeo Orchestra.
We heard music from Jean-Joseph de Mondonville’s 1742 opera Isbé, performed by the Purcell Choir and the Orfeo Orchestra, from a 2017 recording on the Glossa label.
Break and theme music
:30, Mondonville: Isbé, Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, Glossa 2017, D. 2, Tr. 28 Air gracieux
:60, Mondonville: Isbé, Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, Glossa 2017, D. 2, Tr. 10 Loure
:30, Mondonville: Isbé, Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra, Glossa 2017, D. 2, Tr. 32 Air gai
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Elizabeth Clark.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.