LES FRÈRES DUPORT. THE PARIS SONATAS
Jean-Pierre and Jean-Louis Duport were two of the most important musicians of their time. Their influence was crucial to place the cello in the place it occupies nowadays. Born in Paris in 1741 and 1749 respectively, they took their first musical steps in the same city. Jean-Pierre began his studies with the renowned cellist Martin Berteau, and made his public début with one of his sonatas in 1761 in one of the Concert Spirituel organized in the Tuileries Palace, with immediate success. He quickly became one of the regular musicians in those soirées, praised by the critics. As the Mercure the France said, “the instrument is no longer recognizable between his hands. It talks, expresses, makes everything go beyond this charm which only the violin was thought to have”. On the other hand, Jean-Louis’ début in front of a Parisian audience was on the same stage in 1768, after being taught by his older brother. Naturally, he gained public recognition in these concerts, in which he played until the early 1770s.
Like all the great musicians of their time, the Duport brothers wanted to try their fortune in front of a London audience. Although they did not travel together, they both achieved great success in the English scene. However, they still had to make the journey that would change their lives and the history of the cello forever. Jean-Pierre travelled to Germany in 1773 with the intention of giving some concerts; shortly after, he was already working in the court of Frederick “the Great” of Prussia. His abilities did not go unnoticed, so he was named superintendent of music in 1786, with the accession of Frederick William II to the throne. This could have been the reason, alongside the outbreak of the French Revolution, why Jean-Louis joined his brother in 1789 and was appointed first cellist of the court.
The flourishing and musical quality of that court, together with the monarch’s interests, made the best musicians visit it and compose for the Duport brothers. Such is the case of Haydn and Mozart, with their Prussian Quartets, and of Beethoven, who wrote his sonatas Op.5 to play with them. These were the first sonatas for cello and piano in the history of music. Moreover, during those years, Jean-Pierre wrote his last book of sonatas and Jean-Louis, his famous method Essai sur le Doigté du Violoncelle et sur la Conduite de l’Archet.
In 1807 Jean-Louis travelled back to Paris, where he started playing concerts again. In 1812, he was appointed cello professor in the conservatoire. Jean-Pierre stayed in Germany and worked for the Prussian court until his death, on the 31st of December 1818. Jean-Louis died on the 7h of September 1819 in Paris. With their constant work and effort to improve their technique they left a legacy: the origin of the Romantic cello, not only through the evolution of the works they wrote themselves, but also thanks to the ones other musicians wrote for them.
All the music selected for this album was published in Paris and had never been recorded before. It comes from the Duport brothers’ youth years. Although we cannot be sure, some of these sonatas might have been played in their first concert in the Tuileries Palace in Paris. The sonatas by Jean-Pierre are part of his first two books, published between 1766 and 1772. The Sonata V of his second book has a special characteristic: in the manuscript of this piece that is kept in the library of Eichstätt University, we can find a written cadence – probably by the same author – which we have included in the recording. The three sonatas by Jean-Louis are the whole of his second opus.
The choice of plucked string as an accompanying instrument in this recording could seem a bit anachronistic, being a repertoire that is close to Classicism. This decision, however, was made with an approach to the style and sound that the Duport brothers presented in the Concert Spirituel. As we can find published many times in the Mercure de France newspaper between 1763 and 1765, Jean-Pierre Duport used to play regularly in the Paris chambers alongside Bohemian lutenist Josef Kuhaut, even though the lute was hardly being used any more.