Songs of Love, War and Melancholy: the operatic fantasias of Jacques-François Gallay

Anneke Scott (horn),

Steven Devine (piano),

Lucy Crowe (soprano).

Resonus Classics. 2015.




'[Anneke Scott] produces some wonderfully plangent tone colours [...] Her playing, and that of Stephen Devine, has a natural musicality that is particularly noticeable in the way they both apply an easy flexibility to the flow of the music. Soprano Lucy Crowe’s three contributions are similarly noteworthy.'
Early Music Review
  • Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra Les Martyrs de Donizetti (Op. 49)
  • Fantaisie sur une cavatine de Belisario de Donizetti (Op. 42)
  • ‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de Roberto Devereux de Donizetti
  • Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera Bianca e Fernando di Bellini (Op. 47/2)
  • Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de La Sonnambula de Bellini (Op. 28)
  • ‘Une Larme Furtive’ de L’Elisir d’amore de Donizetti
  • Fantaisie sur l’opéra L’Elisir d’amore de Donizetti (Op. 46)
  • Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de Norma de Bellini (Op. 40)
  • ‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des Soirées Italiennes de Mercadante

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Songs of Love, War and Melancholy:
Operatic Fantasias by Jacques-François Gallay

‘Listen to Rubini, Thalberg or Damoreau, Or Gallay’s horn which in turn combines The songs of love, war and melancholy; You will know that their arts are the most beautiful.’
From ‘A Smile – Sonnet’ Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 3 January, 1839

Paris in the mid-nineteenth century boasted a musical scene with an abundance of riches. There was a great appetite for instrumental and vocal virtuosi with huge audiences thronging to concert halls, or packed into more intimate soirées, to hear the leading instrumentalists and singers of their day. The violinist Niccolò Paganini, the pianist Franz Liszt and the soprano Maria Malibran pushed the boundaries of their art and wowed their audiences. Among them was a horn player, Jacques-François Gallay, whose name was mentioned in the same breath as these leading musicians. Admired for his virtuosity and beautiful singing tone, Gallay was in great demand.

Like many other instrumentalists from this time Gallay was also a prolific composer, writing over sixty works and contributing to every genre of horn repertoire, from solo caprices and preludes through to large works for horn and orchestra. In addition to his high-profile solo career he held the position of principal horn in the Théâtre Italien in Paris and, through this job, he would have had contact with many of the great Italian composers of the age, such as Rossini, to whom he dedicated his Grand Quartet for four horns.

Gallay joined the Théâtre Italien in 1825, around the time that the opera house entered its most exciting and influential period. Originally known as the Opéra Buffa, it had opened in 1801, performing solely Italian repertoire in its original language. This was at a time when the Napoleonic Empire occupied much of Italy, and Napoleon, an Italian music enthusiast, was keen to promote the genre. The first two decades of its existence were troublesome: it often needed to change venue or suspend performances for periods of time. However, it quickly became one of the most fashionable places to be seen. ‘Our Opéra Buffa,’ enthused the Courrier de l’Europe in 1807, ‘has become the rendezvous of the most delicate ears and most distinguished society in the capital.’ This was to the detriment of the older, more established Opéra which, by 1824, was compared to ‘a poor invalid, who raises himself from the bed, makes an effort to speak, falls back, struggles, tries to get up again, languishing between life and death’ (La Pandore).

Gallay was born in Perpignan in 1795; his earliest musical training was with a local musician, Artus, with whom the ten-year-old Gallay studied solfège. Perhaps Gallay had been born with a disposition towards music as the Statistique des beaux-arts en France of 1834 cited him as an example of the excellent musicians who came from the Pyrénées Orientales, a region described as ‘the only [region] that could be compared to Italy for the natural disposition of its inhabitants in favour of music’. Two years later he began to learn the horn with his father, an amateur horn player; his early progress is thought to have been due more to the student’s disposition than to the teacher’s talent. Gallay first came to public attention when, at the precocious age of fourteen, he stepped into the shoes of the indisposed cor solo (principal horn) of the local theatre orchestra. This was all the more remarkable as the work in question was Devienne’s Les Visitandines, which contains a demanding obbligato horn solo in the aria ‘Ô toi dont ma mémoire’.

For a time Perpignan offered Gallay sufficient musical opportunities both as a horn player and as a composer, but eventually, encouraged by visiting musical dignitaries, Gallay made the decision to travel to Paris with a view to enrolling at the Conservatoire. From its early days the Paris Conservatoire placed the training of wind and brass students at the centre of its curriculum, attracting several important teachers. The calibre of hand-horn players in France helped prevent the new valve-horn gaining acceptance during the nineteenth century, and led instead to the development of a hand technique that pushed the instrument almost to its limits. Gallay was to epitomise this level of musicality and virtuosity. His career was, however, almost thwarted from the start as, despite being accepted as a student by Dauprat, Gallay, now aged twenty-four, was technically too old to enrol. But dispensation was eventually granted and Gallay was accepted on both the horn and the composition courses.

Upon graduation Gallay quickly established himself in the Parisian musical scene. He initially joined the orchestra of the Odéon, but this position was soon superseded by his appointment as cor solo of the Théâtre Italien. Whilst this was not the only position Gallay was to hold – he was a member of the Société des Concerts
 du Conservatoire, the Chapelle Royale, the Musique du Roi, the Cercle Musical (also known as the Société Musicale) and professor at the Paris Conservatoire – this was a role that greatly influenced his compositions, which are highly dramatic works, redolent of Italian Grand Opera. In recognition of the high regard in which he was held, Gallay was made Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1845.

In accounts of Parisian musical life we often see Gallay identified as one of the leading performers of the time. An 1832 review commented:

‘M. Gallay, M. Tulou, M. Labarre: here are three names who provide the idea of perfection for their three instruments. Each of these artists would seem to be born for his instrument: I cannot conceive of the harp without M. Labarre, the horn without M. Gallay, or the flute without M. Tulou.’
Anonymous, Revue Musicale, 21 January 1832

Solo instrumentalists were, by default, composers as well and charged with creating much of their own repertoire. This was especially the case with wind and brass instrumentalists, who saw rapid development of their instruments during the century. This made them best placed to understand both the risks and the potential of emerging designs and techniques. Like many composers of the 1830s-50s, a significant proportion of Gallay’s works clearly show the influence of opera and, in particular, the Théâtre Italien and its repertoire. Gallay chooses themes from the leading Italian composers – figures such as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Paër, Blangini and Romagnesi – whilst the French operatic repertoire is represented by composers including Halévy, Bérat and Berton. The opera world was not the only source of inspiration for Gallay. Some of his simplest, yet most effective, works are the set of Schubert song transcriptions entitled Les chants du cœur (Op. 51).

During this period the opera fantasia offered virtuoso musicians the opportunity to demonstrate a number of aspects of their playing that were viewed as highly desirable by their audiences. The choice of themes, especially if Italian in origin, was à la mode and their settings offered the musician the opportunity to demonstrate his amazing skills both in performing a melody in a vocal style as well as showing off with spectacular embellishments. Fundamentally though, the trend for opera fantasias could be seen as a reflection of a deeply held philosophical belief dominating the French cultural scene of this time – namely, that music was an imitative art. As a result of this view, vocal music was thought to be the most efficient at awaking sentiments in the audience, while instrumental music was regarded as perilously close to lacking this capacity. Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie explains in an article on song that ‘It is natural to believe that the song of birds, the different sounds of the voices of animals, the noises in the air excited by the winds, the agitation of the leaves of the trees, the murmur of water; all served as a model [...] The sounds were in man: he heard the singing; he was struck by the noise; all his sensations and his instinct led him to imitate these sounds. Therefore the first concerts were for the voice. Instruments came afterwards and were a second imitations because with all instruments it is the voice that we want to imitate.’ D’Alembert went on to condemn ‘all this purely instrumental music, without intention or purpose. It speaks neither to the spirit nor to the soul.’ After attending a concert at the Théâtre Italien in 1812, the critic Géoffroy summed up the situation thus: ‘We often forget that a concert is a celebration, and that those who come to the party want to gratify their senses [...] The symphonies concertante of wind instruments are preferable to violin concertos, which almost always bore the audience; all concertos should be short, melodic, varied [...] Most listeners will judge the beauty of music only by its flexible and brilliant ornamentation.’

Despite the huge popularity of opera fantasias some notable critics bemoaned the ubiquity of the genre:

‘M. Gallay came next and played for us a pot-pourri on Bellini themes, for solo horn. The talent of this virtuoso has been known and valued for a long time; the opinion of artists and amateurs is unanimous on this subject. Excellent embouchure, surety of intonation, accuracy, a pure sound, good taste in ornaments, he has all that constitutes a horn player of the first order. We would have much preferred, however, to hear him play a piece composed for him, rather than this collection of cavatinas, the principal fault of which is being overplayed. Chanteurs, opera singers, instrumentalists of all kinds thrive only on the themes of Bellini. In salons, at concerts great and small, in the very streets as well [...] one hears only the  duo from I Puritani or the cavatine from La Straniera’.
Hector Berlioz, ‘Second Concert du Conservatoire’, La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, 14 February, 1836. 

Such comments were few and far between with the majority of commentators enchanted by Gallay both as a performer and a composer:

‘At the last concert for the king, where the artists of the Théâtre Italien performed several pieces from Norma, we remarked particularly on a fantasia composed and performed by M. Gallay, which brilliantly displays both his execution and his composition.’
Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 17 January, 1836.

Donizetti’s Les Martyrs was his first work written especially for Paris and premiered at the Opéra in 1840. It is a reworking of his ill-fated Il Poliuto, written for the Teatro San Carlo (Naples) in 1838, which was censored due to its subject matter (the martyrdom of Saint Polyeuctus) and therefore never performed. The Fantaisie, published in 1841, opens with a muted quote from the Act III Chœur et Finale ‘Hymne à Jupiter’ which is answered by a contemplative recitativo style section. Gallay takes the rest of his material for this fantasia from Act II. Sévère’s aria ‘Amour de mon jeune ange’ provides the lilting Larghetto theme, which is followed by an Allegro moderato taken from another aria for Sévères, ‘Je te perds, toi que j’adore’. Polyeucte’s aria ‘Dieu puissant qui vois mon zèle’ is heard in the Adagio prior to the return of ‘Je te perds...’. Throughout the work a short dotted rhythmic figure appears which may hark back to the cry of ‘Ju-pi-ter’ from the final chorus.

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Donizetti’s Belisario was premiered at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, in 1836 and only eventually performed at the Théâtre Italien in Paris in 1843, four years after Gallay’s setting was published. The material chosen by Gallay for his Fantaisie comes from the opening scene of Act II (subtitled ‘Exile’) in which Alamiro vows to avenge Belisaro in the extended arias ‘A si tremendo annunzio’ and ‘Trema, Bisanzio!’.

The Op. 47 consists of three fantasias: No. 1 Fantaisie sur les Treize (Halévy), No. 2 Fantaisie sur Bianca e Fernando (Bellini) and No. 3 Fantaisie sur le Shérif (Halévy). As yet no source materials for the first and third fantasies have been traced and the second is currently only to be found in a version for ‘cornet à pistons’ (cornet) published by Ricordi in Milan (1840). Many of Gallay’s works were advertised as available in versions for cornet, making this arrangement highly plausible. As this remaining version is for cornet in G, and as G is a highly unusual key for any of Gallay’s horn works, it seems more likely that the original work would have been for horn in F and thus the work has been transposed. Though the opera was never performed at the Théâtre Italien themes from Bianca e Fernando were obviously popular, appearing in Gallay’s Récréations musicales sur des motifs italiens pour cor seul Op. 40 and in a Romance de Bianca e Fernando which both take Bianca’s Romance ‘Sorgi o padre, e la figlia rimira’ as their theme. Bellini’s opera Bianca e Fernando was premiered in Teatro Carlo Felice (Genoa) in 1828. The majority of this opera came from an earlier version from 1826 entitled Bianca e Gernando rather than Bianca e Fernando as using any form of the heir to the throne’s name, Ferdinando, on stage was prohibited. The motifs used in this Fantaisie come from Bianca’s Act II finale aria ‘Deh! non ferir, deh! sentimi’.

In general Gallay’s Mélodies (Sur l’air de Montano et Stéphanie Op. 21, Sur une cavatine d’Anna Bolena Op. 25 and Sur une cavatine de La Sonnambula Op. 28) are shorter compositions than his Fantaisies and are closer to direct transcripts of the original operatic works. La Sonnambula was premiered in Milan in 1831 and was performed at the Théâtre Italien later the same year. Published in 1836, the ‘cavatine’ used here is Rodolpho’s Act I aria ‘Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni’ in which the Count reminisces about his lost days of youth when life was calmer.

The Fantaisie sur l’opéra L’Elisir d’amore is considerably longer than most of his other opera fantasies and features a greater number of individual themes from the featured opera. L’Elisir d’amore premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1835 and in Paris in 1836. It was a tremendous success and quickly became one of the most performed works in the repertoire. This Fantaisie, published in 1838, opens with the opera’s most famous aria; Nemorino’s aria ‘Una furtiva lacrima’, a theme Gallay returned to in his Deux Morceaux de Concert, also on this disc. After a piano intermezzo the theme of the ‘Barcarola’ duet for Dulcamara and Adina ‘Io son ricco e tu sei bella’ appears plus a variation on this theme. Gallay may have been inspired to include Neomorino’s Adagio ‘Adina credimi’ by the plaintive horn countermelody in Donizetti’s original orchestration. The Allegro finale is made of up two themes: Nemorino and Dr Dulcamara’s ‘Obbligato, ah! si’ obbligato! Son felice, son contento’ and Nemorino’s ‘Un po’del duo corraggio’ with the piano interludes including the ‘Un po’ del duo corragio’ theme from Nemorino’s interjections in the Act I cavatina ‘Come paride vezzoso’.

Bellini’s Norma (first performed at La Scala in 1831 and at the Théâtre Italien in 1835) has been used as the source of a number of fantasias and variations by composers such as Gallay’s contemporary, the cornettist Jean-Baptiste Arban (Thème et variations sur Norma). Its themes, in particular ‘Casta Diva’, remain popular to this day. Gallay’s work, published in 1837, opens with a rhapsodic prelude which includes the suggestion of orchestral motifs from the Act II orchestral interlude. This leads into the main theme taken from Norma and Adalgisa’s Act II duet ‘Deh! Con te, con te li prendi’ a theme which also appears in Gallay’s Mélodies gracieuses Op. 33. After two sets of variations on this theme Gallay incorporates the theme from the Act I trio ‘Vanne, Sì, mi lascia, indegno’. An additional, as yet untraced, theme features before Gallay returns to ‘Deh! Con te, con te li prendi’ for the finale.

‘Rubini sang with his moving voice, and Gallay on his horn which is more a human voice than a brass instrument’.
Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 24 March, 1839. 

Interspersed between these works are three song settings by Gallay for voice, horn and piano. Many accounts survive detailing Gallay’s frequent performances at fashionable soirées in Paris; similarly, a number of ‘maisons’ belonging to instrument builders, publishers or music news sheets hosted concerts for their clients. Often the exact details of the performances are vague, occasionally a piece is mentioned but more often the names of the musicians are noted giving us an impression of the calibre of singers that Gallay was associated with.

Gallay returns to the famous L’Elisir d’amore aria ‘Une larme furtive’ (’Una furtiva lagrima’) in the first of the Deux Morceaux de Concert (1839). The vocal melodic line is a direct transcription of Nemorino’s material whilst the horn line is a mixture of the solo bassoon, clarinet and horn lines from the original orchestration. Curiously, this most iconic of tenor arias is radically altered in that the words of this setting change the gender of the narrator from male to female; hence the use of soprano rather than a tenor for this recording. The author of Gallay’s ‘paroles françaises’ was Louis-Ernest Crevel (1806-1882), also known by his nom de plume of Crevel de Charlemagne. Crevel was an author in his own right and also a noted translator of both Italian and German libretti. His translations of these particular works are quite ‘loose’ and therefore translations of the French rather than the better known Italian texts have been provided here below.

In the duet ‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ (’Da che tornasti’) taken from Act I, scene 9 of Robert Devereux the vocal line takes the role of Sara whilst the horn takes the role of Roberto. Roberto/the horn’s words are reproduced from Étienne Monnier’s 1841 translation of Robert d’Evereux for the Théâtre des Arts de Rouen below. ‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ (’The call of the hunter’) is a setting of an unusual duet entitled ‘Alla caccia’ (’To the hunt’) for two tenors from Mercadante’s Soirées Italiennes or, in its original Italian form: Serate Italiane (c.1836). The duet, with words by Count Pepoli, was designed to wow Parisian salons and was dedicated to the two tenors Giovanni Battista Rubini (1794-1864) and Nicola Ivanoff (1810-1880). In 1836 Rossini had invited Mercadante to write his first work, I Briganti, for the Théâtre Italien. I Briganti featured both Rubini in the role of Ermano and Gallay in the horn obbligato for the aria ‘Ove a me rivolgui un guardo’. The opera ‘starts with a horn solo, performed with the surety, melodic grace and good style that characterise the talent of Mr. Gallay’ (Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, 1836). Whilst the horn takes some of the vocal lines, Gallay reduces most of Mercadante’s original vocal lines to one part giving the horn idiomatic hunting calls that comment on the action. The appeal of such a song to a horn player like Gallay is more than understandable, the horn being the sonic symbol of hunting and France being a particular stronghold of hunting. Whilst the Mercadante was set for two tenor voices, Gallay’s version does not specify a voice type, and therefore, in keeping with the other song settings on this disc, we opted for soprano.

After Gallay’s death in 1864 his daughter donated one of his instruments, a Lucien-Joseph Raoux cor-solo built in 1821, to the Paris Conservatoire. (The term ‘cor-solo’ in this context refers to a design of hand-horn which used only internal crooks in the solo keys of D, E flat, E, F and G; the cor d’orchestre had a full set of terminal crooks, better designed for orchestral performance.) This instrument may well have been Gallay’s prize when he was awarded the Paris Conservatoire’s Premier Prix in 1821, and it is now housed in the Cité de la Musique, Paris. The Raoux family were the leading makers of horns in France for many years and their surviving instruments are now housed in many important museums. Lucien-Joseph’s son, Marcel-Auguste, took on the family business alongside his work as a horn player. He was second horn to Gallay in the Théâtre Italien and replaced him on his retirement.

Sébastien Érard (1752-1831) was a leading maker of harpsichords, pianos and harps who did much to help the evolution of the piano during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His instruments were highly regarded by musicians and aristocrats and it was his association with the latter that caused him to flee France during the Revolution, moving his business to the safer shores of England. Periods of peace in France and the success of his instruments in both countries led to him maintaining workshops both sides of the channel. In 1814 Érard’s London business was taken over by his nephew Pierre Érard (1794-1855) who eventually inherited the whole business after his uncle’s death. Throughout both of these generations Érard pianos were admired and owned by many of the leading musicians of the age including Beethoven, Chopin, Fauré, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Moscheles. In the context of this recording, one notable aficionado of Érard instruments was the pianist Frédéric Kalkbrenner who performed frequently with Gallay.

Both Raoux horns and Érard pianos are considered some of the finest instruments of their time and representative of the sound world that Gallay and his contemporaries inhabited. We are greatly indebted to the Bate Collection, Oxford who kindly made available their 1823 Marcel-Auguste Raoux cor solo for this recording. We are similarly indebted to the University of Birmingham who kindly allowed us to use their 1851 Érard grand piano. © 2015 Anneke Scott