French Cello Music: 18th Century

Can you guess what I’m going to say in this entry?

Before I get to the main point, which will likely be predictable, I wish to say thank you. Yes, THANK YOU for listening to my podcast, Forgotten Cello Music. The numbers continue to climb–a steady crawl upward.

If you are reading this, would you do me the pleasure of clicking LIKE and commenting which composer you like from the 18th century?

You’re the best!

Now, straight to the body of the post.

French music in the 18th Century is similar to that of Italian, German, English, etc. Baroque is Baroque is a sense. However, some elements stand out as general national style. Italian is often florid and quick. German is well measured and with carefully crafted ornamentation after paying heed to the structure. English is often sweet and somewhat sentimental. In this French section, we will often find beautiful rising and falling lines of melody accompanied by a sparse yet content harmony.

Do you hear these styles? (I emphasize that they are generalizations and my own perception of them. Nothing is ever exactly one way or another.) Somehow, even if I am unable to describe what the differences are, we can still hear them.

By giving characteristics to a general national style, I am by no means speaking ill of any of them. This is simply how I perceive them. Personally, I enjoy music from all of the countries named. (Unfortunately Spain and Portugal, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries (Slavic too) are all ignored in this study of the 18th Century. It could be that he had little to no information from those parts or that there really were very few cellists to speak of at that early juncture of cello history.


Again, Wasielewski, the author of The Violoncello and Its History, crams in a host of names that are never mentioned in even the most “complete” course of Baroque music history. We read about dozens of cellists who made a name and a place for themselves. Some of them were famous and others studied under the famous teachers.

One of the cellists mentioned that could hardly be passed over is Jean-Baptiste Bréval. Every cello student eventually gets to know him. We all studied and learned Sonata in C major, both movements. Some of us probably remained on those two movements for much longer than is necessary. (This will be addressed in the next post.) He wrote so, so much more than that ONE sonata. Such a shame, that no teacher ever ventured beyond the standards and apparently didn’t even know about them, therefore being unable to tell me about the set of 6 sonatas from which it came! They are all wonderful examples of sonatas for the intermediate player.

That brings me to the next cellist, Pierre Hyacinthe Azaïs. He wrote this set of 12 duets that are absolutely perfect for introducing Baroque playing the lower intermediate student. They are simple yet pleasant, well-crafted and fairly inventive for the time and level. Did you read that number? TWELVE–12 duets/sonatas.

Now for a list of names, some of which you already know.

  1. Jean-Pierre and Jean-Louis Duport
  2. Ignaz Pleyel
  3. Michel Corrette
  4. Louis François Patouart
  5. Thomas Sanders Dupuis

There are loads of other cellists as well but it would not profit much in this particular project to list them all.

The point of this project comes back time and time again. That is, to show how much cello music there really is. We have thousands of pieces that go completely unnoticed. Hundreds of those pieces could readily be utilized as learning material. Still dozens of those are worth performance time on the concert stage. (I’m being modest, in actuality I believe hundreds of these are concert worthy.)

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