Les Prétentions du Violoncelle: The Cello as a Solo Instrument in France in the pre-Duport Era (1700-1760)
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
When Hubert Le Blanc published his Défence de la basse de viole in 1741, the cello had already established itself as a solo instrument in Parisian musical life. Several cellists, both French and foreign, had performed to acclaim at the Concert Spirituel, and the instrument had a rapidly expanding repertoire of published solo sonatas by French composers. Among the most significant of the early French cellist-composers were Jean Barrière (1707-47), François Martin (c. 1727-c. 1757), Jean-Baptiste Masse (c. 1700-1757), and Martin Berteau (1708/9-1771). Their cello sonatas are innovative, experimental, often highly virtuosic, and, in spite of unashamedly Italianate traits, tinged with a uniquely French hue.
Yet notwithstanding its repertoire and the skill of its performers, this generation of French cellist-composers has remained undervalued and underexplored. To a large extent, this neglect has arisen because a succeeding generation of French cellists of the late eighteenth century - the Duport brothers, Jean-Pierre (1741-1818) and Jean-Louis (1749-1819), the Janson brothers, Jean-Baptiste-Aimé (1742-1823) and Louis-Auguste-Joseph (1749-1815), and Jean-Baptiste Bréval (1753-1823) - are widely acknowledged as the creators of the modern school of cello playing.
This dissertation focuses exclusively on the early French cello school. It seeks to examine the rise of the solo cello in France within its socio- cultural and historical context; to provide biographies of those com- prising the early French cello school; to explore the repertoire with particular emphasis on the growth of technique and idiom, detailing features that may be described as uniquely French, and to assert the importance of and gain recognition for this school, not as a forerunner of the so-called Duport school but as an entity in itself.