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The Fifth Book Of Airs of Cambini Print E-mail
Written by Tom Moore   

The 5. Livre de Duo d’air varies (1794) of Cambini

Biographies of Giovanni Gioacchino Maria Cambini generally begin by noting how little solid information there is about the details of the composer’s life and career, even though this paucity is characteristic of the peripatetic musicians of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Like many composers from the South and East, Cambini gravitated to Paris, one of the truly great musical centers of the day, where he produced vast quantities of instrumental music, including, it is generally said, at least 144 string quartets. This fertility gained brought Cambini the usual brickbats from music historians, but the quality of his music has brought him numerous new editions in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, something that cannot be said for most of his contemporaries, including much chamber music for flute.

Among his chamber music for flute which has yet to be republished, but which has been digitized by the Gallica project of the National Library of France, is the Six Duo d’Airs Connus Variés pour deux Flutes - 5. Livre de Duo d’air varies1, published both at Paris, by Boyer, and at Lyon, by Garnier, at a price of 7 livres, 10 francs. The series title might lead one to expect this was the fifth in a series of such works for flute duo, but indeed the scorings vary. The 2. Livre de Duo d’airs variés (1783) is for violin and viola2. Its title page notes that the “Le 1er. livre de Duo d'airs variés est pour deux violons.” This first volume in the series was published in 1782 3. The 3. Livre de Duo d’airs variés – Six duo d’airs connus variés pour deux flutes… (1785) is held at the Bib. Nat.4 I have as yet found no citation for the fourth book.

Music historians have noted that, unlike many other foreign composers who had come to Paris to seek their fortune, who left when circumstances became threatening in the 1790s, Cambini seems to have been at ease with the Revolution, and produced musical settings for revolutionary texts. This is certainly evident in his choice of contemporary tunes for the domestic diversion of the genre of the flute duos. The fifth book includes variations (usually three or four each) on twelve tunes. Details on the origins , sources and texts of these tunes follow. Almost all of the tunes had been on the stage very recently prior to the publication of the volume.

When was it published? The National Library catalogs the collection with a date of publication of 1794, though I cannot find a date in the item itself. Almost all the tunes that Cambini chooses appeared in the three years 1791-1793. It is worth noting that Cambini created a collection which can in its entirety be played comfortably on the one-key flute, both in terms of range (no Cs or C#s requiring an extended foot) and in terms of key (only pieces in one or two sharps), thus appealing to the broadest possible public, something in keeping with its clearly Republican sympathies with respect to the tunes chosen, as will be seen below.

Download The Airs of the fifth book in PDF format.


1. URL for download: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b90104607.r=cambini+duo.langEN

2.  CAMBINI, G. M. (1783). Six duo d'airs connûs variés pour violon et alto. 2. livre de Duo d'airs variés. Na. Le 1er. livre de Duo d'airs variés est pour deux violons. Paris, Chez Mr. Boyer. Held at U. of Michigan, OCLC acc. no: 23623240, and also at the Royal Library, Den Haag, OCLC acc no. 228040700

3. CAMBINI, G. M. (1782). 1er. livre de six duo d'airs connus dialogués et variés pour deux violons. A Paris, chez Mr. Boyer, au magazin de musique, rue de Richelieu, à la Clef d'or, à l'ancien caffé de Foy. OCLC: 435821450, also 658594308.

4. CAMBINI, G. M. (1785). Six Duo d'airs connus variés pour deux flûtes... 3e livre de duo d'airs variés. Paris, Boyer. OCLC: 658594166.

Tom MooreTom Moore is a journalist, musician, and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. He has recorded Telemann for Lyrichord (USA) and Boismortier for A Casa Discos (Brazil). He writes about music for BrazilMax, Musica Brasileira, 21st Century Music, Opera Today, Flute Talk, Sonograma, Early Music America, and other venues.