What music could have saved Madame de Pompadour's soul?
By Danielle Barbosa
In this painting, The Arts in Supplication by Carle Van Loo, the muses of the arts are pleading for the salvation of Madame de Pompadour’s soul. Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, also known as Madame de Pompadour, belonged to the French court and was the principal mistress of King Louis XV from 1745 to 1751. Throughout this time and until her death, Madame de Pompadour was an influential patron in architecture, painting, decorative arts, philosophy, and music. Looking at the painting, one wonders what kind of music would have saved the soul of the devoted patron? Notice that Music holds a harp and a trumpet, instruments of the heavens. In the right corner, notice the instruments of earthly music-making, the violin and music score, which lie on the ground. Could this be the musical composition and instrument that might save her soul? Could it be the Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 2, No. 2: I. Adagio, composed by François Francoeur?
Madame de Pompadour was a patron of François Francoeur who was an important musician in Paris. He joined the 24 violons du Roy (The King’s String Orchestra) in 1730, became the music director of the Paris Opera by 1744, and was eventually appointed as King Louis XV’s Master of Music in 1764. As musicologist Winston Kaehler has shown, Madame de Pompadour commissioned his ballets and operas for performance in the court theater she founded, known as Théâtre des petits cabinets. The French court likely viewed her patronage of Francoeur and others to be generous, inspired, and worthy of divine reward.
This sonata is scored for violin, harpsichord, and basso continuo. In the 18th century, players usually worked with whatever instruments were available. In this spirit, Yu-Chen and I perform this as a duo on modern cello and violin. This Baroque work contains elements that were viewed as beautiful and artistic by 18th-century European audiences. For instance, you will hear melodic lines which are independent and overlapping. This polyphonic texture was viewed as spontaneous, and this kind of freedom in expression was valued during the Humanist era.
Performed by Danielle Barbosa (violin) and Yu-Chen Shih (cello)
Also, you will hear the use of ornamentation, such as trills, mordents, and turns. Even vibrato is treated like an ornament, reserved for more expressive moments. These decorations were valued by audiences because they would enrich the music and make it more emotional. Finally, the rhythmic structure of Baroque music was influenced by dance and speech. Other movements in Francoeur 's sonata suite include Courante and Sarabande. It was believed that different styles of dance evoked different affections and feelings. Audiences would feel like they were taken on an emotional journey when they listened to the different contrasting sections.
Anonymous. “Madame de Pompadour.” Château de Versailles. https://en.chateauversailles.fr/discover/history/great-characters/madame-pompadour, accessed 4/20/2023.
Francoeur, François. Sonata No. 2 in E minor. Paris: Le Sr. Boivin, Clerc, n.d. (ca.1773).
Kaehler, Winston Haverland. The Operatic Repertoire of Madame de Pompadour's Théâtre Des Petits Cabinets (1747-1753). The University of Michigan, dissertation, 1971.
Minderovic, Zoran. “Biography of François Francoeur.” All Music. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/françois-francoeur-mn0001175932/biography, accessed 4/20/2023.