On This Day – January 17

Today we look at a lesser known Belgian composer, who composed operas, string quartets, symphonies and choral works. While a lot of his works are not very well known, one work is known very well by all who have learnt violin through the Suzuki method. François-Joseph Gossec, born on this day in 1734.

A farmers son, Gossec was born in Vergnies, in Hainaut. He became a choir-boy in Antwerp after showing an early taste for music, then moved to Paris in 1751 and was taken on by Jean-Philippe Rameau. As he followed Rameau as the conductor of a private orchestra kept by the fermier général Le Riche de La Poupelinière, he gradually became determined to do something to revive the study of instrumental music in France.

His first symphony was performed in 1754, and he produced several operas and other compositions while conductor to the Prince de Condé’s orchestra. In 1760 he premiered his Requiem, a piece ninety minutes in length. This piece made him famous overnight, and was admired by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Some of Gossec’s techniques preempted romantic era innovations. He wrote a Te Deum for 1200 singers and 300 wind instruments; several oratorios include instructions for the physical separation of choirs, often including invisible ones behind the stage.

Here we have Gossec’s Symphony in F, performed by Les Agremens.

Perhaps Gossec’s most well known work is his Gavotte in D, which appears in the Suzuki Violin Book 1. Now I always feel that if I’m to show a video, it should be of the absolute best quality of performance, and I wasn’t feeling confident of finding a great performance of this piece. Yet, once again, Youtube has surpassed my expectations and I can present you with a performance by Mischa Elman, in a performance from 1926. First you will hear Humoresque by Dvorak, followed by a wonderful performance of Gossec’s Gavotte.

And for a bit of fun, here is Christian Plouvier on flute and Hakan Toker on piano playing Gossec’s Gavotte. This is why you never do lunchtime concerts…

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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