Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pierre Gavinies

Pierre Gaviniès was a French violinist, teacher, and composer born (in Bordeaux) on May 11, 1728 – one source gives his date of birth as May 26, 1726 (J.S. Bach was 43 years old and would live another 22.)  Gaviniès was the son of a violin maker (Francois Gavinies, 1683-1772) and is famous for his 24 Caprices (1794), probably, next to Paganini’s, the most difficult set of etudes for any violinist.  He has been credited with being the founder of the French violin school of violin playing – whatever that may be – though that distinction is debatable.  His teachers are unknown, although he may have studied with Leclair in Paris, having moved there with his father in 1734.  Many of his contemporaries spoke of him as being the greatest living violinist.  Judging from the Caprices, he may have been.  Gavinies was also then famous for his rendition of Vivaldi’s Spring from the Four Seasons.  His first important appearance in concert took place in 1741.  He was 13 years old.  For thirty years (and perhaps more) he was associated with the Concerts Spirituel, which he directed from 1773 to 1777.  Mozart was in his late teens at the time.  (The Concerts Spirituel was a French public concert series founded by musicians of the Paris Opera - it ran from 1725 until 1790.  Mozart’s Paris Symphony was played at these concerts.)  While he was esteemed as a great virtuoso (Viotti called him the French Tartini), Gavinies rarely left Paris and eventually, at the age of 67, ended up teaching at the Paris Conservatory, alongside Pierre Rode, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and Pierre Baillot.  In 1794 he was actually named Director but did not take this office until 1796.  Kreutzer dedicated his third violin concerto to Gavinies.  Few have heard this concerto and it might not even be currently published.  It has been written that Gavinies was one of Joseph Chevalier De Saint George’s teachers and that may well be so – in any case, it is a possibility.  An indication that he somewhat favored the Baroque style during the transition from Baroque to Classical is that many of his works for violin have accompaniments marked in figured bass only.  He composed – besides the Caprices - an opera, twelve violin sonatas (1760), six violin concertos (1764), six violin duos, and several other pieces which are now never played, except, perhaps, in France.  Gavinies died in Paris on September 9, 1800, at age 72.  Mozart was dead by then but Paganini was only 18 years old.

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