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Jean Joseph Mouret and his Rondeau

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Jean-Joseph Mouret (April 11, 1682-December 22, 1738) was a French composer born at Avignon whose dramatic works made him one of the leading exponents of Baroque music in his country. Mouret’s father was a prosperous silk merchant of Avignon, an amateur violinist who recognized his son’s precocious musical abilities and provided him with a fine education. Details of this education are unknown, but as a talented youngster, Mouret was encouraged by his father, and musical historians consider it likely that his early training was at the prestigious church of Notre Dame des Doms in Avignon, an important regional church. The elder Mouret generously supported his son’s decision to pursue a musical career. As a youth, Mouret proved himself a talented singer while also earning success for his compositions.

Around the age of twenty-five, Mouret settled in Paris. Mouret’s family’s wealth, charm, and lovely singing voice made him welcome in the best company. By 1707, he was appointed music master for the Marshall of Noailles. News of his arrival did not take long to spread and he was introduced to Anne, Duchess of Maine, whose salon at Sceaux was a center of courtly society in the declining years of Louis XIV. His genial character strongly assisted him in securing the patronage of the Duchess, who made him her Surintendant de la musique at Sceaux about 1708. At Sceaux he produced operas and was in charge of the sixteen bi-weekly Grandes nuits in the season of 1714–1715, for which he produced interimèdes and allegorical cantatas in the court masque tradition, and other music, in the company of the most favored musicians, for the most select audience in France. Mouret thus launched his adult career under highly favorable auspices. In an age when elevated Greek tragedy, pastoral romance, and histories based on figures of antiquity were de rigeur, Mouret was bold enough to introduce comedy into his operas.

His first opéra-ballet Les fêtes, ou Le triomphe de Thalie [“Festivities, or The Triumph of Thalia”] with a libretto by Joseph de La Font was presented at the Opéra on August 19, 1714. Mouret went on to write Le mariage de Ragonde (1714), a true lyric comedy anticipating by 30 years Rameau’s Platée, which is often considered the origin of French musical comedy. Also in 1714 Mouret received an appointment as the director of the orchestra of the Opéra, a post which he held until 1718. Mouret also wrote standard tragedies and heroic ballets, but was notably less successful with them than in his more lighthearted works, which also included a series of divertissements for Paris’ French Theater beginning in 1716; he also wrote motets and cantatas.

From 1717 to 1737 he directed the Nouveau Théâtre Italien du Palais-Royal for which he composed divertissements that accompanied, for example, the tender comedies of Marivaux, and which, printed, fill six volumes. In 1718, he was given a royal privilege to publish music and in 1720 was appointed an ordinaire du Roy, as singer in the King’s chamber. At court Mouret maintained a post as singer, and directed the grand divertissements offered by the Regent, the duc d’Orléans at his château of Villers-Cotterêts on the occasion of Louis XV’s coming-of-age in 1722. Concurrently, he was director of the concert series established by the orchestra of the Opéra, the Concerts Spirituel (1728–1734), positions which provided a public outlet for his own music and which permitted him to live in affluence.

Mouret married and had one daughter. However, after a career marked by vast popularity, he experienced a sudden fall from success, and his later years were overshadowed by financial and social disappointments. The Concert Spirituel had financial and legal problems that affected him personally. Then in 1734, the troubled institution was taken over by the Académie Royale de Musique, which sacked Mouret. In 1736, the Duke of Maine died and Mouret lost his position at Sceaux. In 1737, the Italian Theater had a change of policy that resulted in Mouret losing that job as well. Within four years, he had lost all sources of income and sinking into poverty was essentially maintained as a charity case by the Prince of Carignan, who annually gave him a pension. Broken by all of these career misfortunes, by 1737 he began to go mad. Just after his 50th birthday, he was placed in the care of the Fathers of Charity at Charenton-le-Pont, a charitable asylum run by the Roman Catholic Church, and died in that institution eight months later.

One of the most popular and innovative composers of vocal music in the period between Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1784),Mouret composed mainly for the stage. He contributed to the emergence of the distinctively French genres of lyric tragedy and opera-ballet but his jealousy of the rising star of Jean-Philippe Rameau led to the bitterness and madness in which he ended his days. Mouret also wrote airs, divertissements, cantatilles, motets, and instrumental works (sonatas, fanfares). Among his other compositions, the two Suites de symphonies (1729) deserve special mention. Even though most of his works are no longer performed, Mouret’s name survives today thanks to the popularity of the Fanfare-Rondeau from his first Suite de symphonies, which has been adopted as the signature tune of the PBS program Masterpiece and is a popular musical choice in many modern weddings. Of his large body of works, only instrumental works (his Suites de symphonies and a handful of trio sonatas) are easily available in modern edition or recordings. His Suites are important in the development of a modern orchestral style in French music.

The following work by Mouret is included in my collection:

First Symphonic Suite of Sinfonies de Fanfares: Rondeau.

—material taken, adapted, and edited from several different sources

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