Pierre Baillot-Ancient Air

Posted on October 12th, 2011 by

Pierre Baillot-Chant des Litanies. Peter Sheppard Skaerved. Del Gesu ‘Kreisler’. Library of Congress May 9th 2009 Pierre Baillot-Ancient Air

J J Rousseau Air a trois notes (arr. Pierre Baillot)

Peter Sheppard Skaerved (Workshop recording) 12 10 2011

Pierre Baillot: ‘…this study reflects the quality of daydreaming, a situation of the sould in which we would have trouble determining either a beginning or an end. The situation gives a rise to a delicious sentiment when a tone-a single expression-directs one’s thought, fixing it suddenly on an object whose image is in the heart, and, touching the emotions, sets itself in harmony with our most cherished feelings.’ (L’Art du VIolon, 1834)


Pierre Baillot

Pierre François le Sales Baillot (1771-1842) is, today, the least known of the three violinists who laid the technical groundwork for the French violin school.  Kreutzer and Rode’s  studies have permeated the teaching méthodes of nearly every school of string playing today, whereas Baillot’s contributions are relatively little-known. This is despite the fact that Baillot was probably the most effective teacher of the three,  and was personally responsible for galvanising their ideas into an effective méthode, as is clear from his L’Art du Violon (1834).

Baillot’s études have not really entered the ‘pedagogical consciousness’. This is probably the reason, that of all three instigators of the Méthode, he is the least-known today.  Kreutzer and Rode’s Caprices became central to teaching practice, whilst Baillot’s material fell into relative obscurity. By the time Baillot’s L’Art … appeared in 1834, the Kreutzer studies were being used, in concert with the first Méthode, as an effective and artless corrective manual. Baillot’s L’Art du Violon did its job as he intended, and replaced the original Méthode then it is not so surprising that these studies lingered, alongside the new méthode, whilst his study material, did not enter the repertoire.

In addition, by the time of the publication of the L’Art du Violin, a new ‘player’ had entered the arena, the notion of the ‘transcendental etude’.  From a string playing outlook,  the publication of Nicolo Paganini’s Op 1, 2 & 3, his Capricci (1820), forced a divide between the expectations of a ‘Concert Study’ and a pedagogical work..Kreutzer’s studies are unashamed teaching works, whatever their manifold musical qualities.  By way of contrast, the Rode, Baillot and contemporary with these, the Viennese Josef Mayseder’s (1789-1863) Etuden, are concert pieces, but not cast in the excitingly precipitate mould that Paganini provided.  Thanks to the post-Paganini presupposition that a solo violin work should be as difficult as possible, these concert pieces were not seen as being systematic enough for as teaching pieces, yet not dramatic enough for the stage. Not until the pioneering work of Oscar Shumsky (1917-2000), who was the first to record the Rode Caprices, was corrected.

Like Viotti, Baillot had a close relationship with Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842). He owned the only copy of Viotti’s solo Fugue, dedicated to Cherubini, until it was published in the 20th century.  One aspect of this working relationship was the extraordinary scale accompaniments which Cherubini wrote for Baillot’s Art.  These accompaniments speak volumes about the role of the ‘accompanying’ teacher in a violin lesson, or rather the expectations thereof in the Paris Conservatoire.  Today, many string teachers will accompany their students playing their gammes (scales) at the piano, the accompaniment, more often than not, providing harmonic and rhythmic support.  Cherubini’s thirty-six accompaniments are written for a second string player; in the Méthode, cello or bass. Pierre Baillot reprinted them in his Art du Violon thirty years later, still referring to them ,  as ‘bass lines…in the treble clef to facilitate their performance on the violin’.   Their purpose goes far beyoung a functional harmonic underpinning, but also accustoms the student to harmonic and rhythmic ambiguities, and to prepare them for contrapuntal playing and listening.  This manual, and these duos, were designed to help a student from a beginner’s level up, gradually introducing the young player to the notion of more musical responsibility and input, comensurate with their progress.

Cherubini’s adventurous accompaniments bear many similarities to the brilliant two-part writing of his colleague at the Conservatoire, Antoine Reicha (1770-1836).  As a young student in Milan, Cherubini had written a series of contrapuntal exercises under the guidance of ever-inventive Giuseppe Sarti (1729-1802), who had famously pulled off the stunt of a Kyrie written as Fuga a otto voce (in eigth parts).   The accompaniments are also a manifestation of Cherubini’s determination to preserve the strict teaching form and counterpoint. He doggedly resisted any music that broke his rigorous harmonic rules; he refused to attend the rehearsals of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique , and rejected  the innovation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

One presupposition runs through the teaching méthodes of Baillot, Spohr and the Polish Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), all of whom used duo writing, as the central strut of their manuals; the teacher should, ideally, be a first rank player. The teacher’s role, instrument in their hands, was to challenge each student’s aural expectations, notions of fixed harmony and rhythmic skills.  This can clearly be seen in Spohr’s first ‘open string’ duos from his Grand Violin School, the first two duos of Wieniawski’s ÉtudesCaprices and most particularly, Cherubini’s scale accompaniments. They do not support and ‘cradle’ the student but encourage independence and true counterpoint, looking forward to the extraordinary duos of modern-day composer-pedagogues such as Béla Bártok (1881-1945), Mihailo Trandafilovski (1974- )and Luciano Berio (1925-2003).  In honour of these principles Fidélè Dufresne dedicated a set of variations on scales, his 50 Duos sur la Gamme Op 24, to Baillot.

Like most of the violinist/composers of the day, Baillot’s output is dominated by duos; he published 99 in all.  These range from the works aimed at the amateur market,  for enjoyment at home, through to virtuosic solo works with accompaniment of a second violin.  His 50 Duos are scale variations with a second violin, and these were followed by 24 Duos Op Posth., conceived as appendices to L’Art du Violon