François Devienne (January 31, 1759–September 5, 1803) was a French composer and professor of flute at the Paris Conservatory. Devienne was born on January 31, 1759, in Joinville (Haute-Marne), France, as the youngest of fourteen children of a saddlemaker. His first music education came from family and locals. He seems, at the early age of ten, to have been a member of the Regiment Royale des Cravates, a military band and therefore a usual school for brass or woodwind players at the time. After receiving his early musical training as a choirboy in his hometown, he settled in Paris in 1779 and took up his first position as last-stand bassoonist with the Opera de Paris. At the same time, he studied the flute with Félix Rault and played in various Parisian ensembles as soloist and orchestra player.
In 1780 Devienne joined the household of Cardinal de Rohan as a chamber musician and was a member of the orchestra of the Loge Olympique.. The first record of a Parisian performance of Devienne’s music is in 1780, when someone else premiered one of his bassoon concertos. In 1782 Devienne himself played one of his flute concertos when he gave the first of at least 18 solo performances through 1785 at the Concert Spirituel. After a period with the Swiss Guard band at Versailles, in 1788 he joined the orchestra of the Theatre de Monsieur as second, later first bassoonist, a poorly paid position he would hold until 1801. He was active in Paris as a flautist, bassoonist and composer. He wrote successful operas in the 1790s, including Les visitandines (1792) which brought him much success.
Devienne was also a member of the Military Band of the French Guard where he was given the rank of sergeant with the duty of teaching the children of his colleagues in the military band in its Free School of Music. After the Revolutionary period, when the Free School became the National Institute of Music, later chartered as the Paris Conservatory in 1795, Devienne was appointed an administrator and flute professor; among his students was François René Gebauer. He wrote Méthode de Flûte Théorique et Pratique (1793) with its extremely interesting articles on technique and style of the time, which was reprinted several times and did much to improve the level of French wind music in the late 18th century. Like many other musicians, he joined the Freemasons and Concerts de la Loge Olympique orchestra.
Devienne’s output comprises c. 300 instrumental works that are mostly written for wind instruments. There are a dozen flute concertos, eight books of sonatas for flute, 84 duets, sinfonias for woodwinds, quartets and trios for different ensembles, 12 operas, 5 bassoon concertos, 6 bassoon sonatas and 6 oboe sonatas (Opp. 70 and 71). Devienne’s compositions for flute, revived by Jean-Pierre Rampal in the 1960s, are now better known to flautists, but still not to the public at large. As well as extensive educational work, including the Méthode, his collected work also includes eight books of sonatas for flute or bassoon, a variety of chamber music and no less than seventeen concertos. He became known in his day as the “Mozart of the Flute.”
A celebrated bassoonist and flutist in late seventeenth century France, Devienne is best remembered now for the several concertos he wrote for his own performance. His fortunes declined suddenly in the new century, though, and he died, probably of overwork, in Charenton-Saint-Maurice near Paris on September 5, 1803, four months after being committed to the Charenton insane asylum.
The following work by Francois Devienne is contained in my collection:
Concerto for Flute and Orchestra No. 7 in e minor (1787).
—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources