SOUNDBOX-Viotti and the ideal Salon

Posted on May 31st, 2012 by


Tuesday 29th May 1230 Pm Royal Academy of Music Museum Piano Gallery

Viotti-Ideal Chamber Music

with Inbar Verni-Harp

Repertoire -Viotti-Sonata for Harp and Violin (dedicated to Lady Dunmore), plus Country Dances for 1808 & 1809


Autumn in the forest around Gilwell House and Fairmead Lodge, where Viotti loved to walk

A celebration of Giovanni Battista Viotti through his private artistic world, which was always more important to him than concert giving. Soundbox explores a work that he dedicated to Lady Dunmore, his love of playing dance music, his friendships with Madame de Genlis, Thomas Moore, William Sotheby, Germaine de Stael, Margaret Chinnery, walks in the woods around Waltham Abbey and Epping Forest, and his mutual admiration with the portraitist of the age Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun.  I am delighted to welcome the wonderful young harpist Inbar Vernia to to participate in the session.


Margaret Chinnery proudly holding the work which de Genlis dedicated to her Adèle et Théodore; ou letters sur l’éducation (by Elisabeth Vigee le-Brun)

Music-Giovanni Battista Viotti-Sonata, for Harp with Violin Accompaniment, dedicated to Lady Susan Dunmore-Allegro Brillante

Stéphanie Félicité Ducrest de St-Aubin, comtesse de Genlis, giving a harp lesson to her ward (actually her daughter), Pamela

A Walk in the Woods

Gilwell House

Viotti-Adagio ‘composta da una dilettante’

Emma Hart (Hamilton) in Naples-“This drawing was made by Madame le-Brun, (1790) with a piece of charcoal from the kitchen, on a door of a room at the Casino of Sir William Hamilton…and removed on orders of the Chevalier who was eager to own and conserve this piece by this lovable and sublime artist.”


Giovanni Battista Viotti playing for dancing ‘Le Racleur’ . Anonymous watercolour.


William Sotheby, known as ‘botherby’ by Moore- poet, classicist, and country dance enthusiast


Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her Naderman harp

Viotti was also the last great soloist who as reportedly happy to work as an accompanist, whether to harpists, pianists or dancers. This has led to questions as to whether Viotti’s main work whilst in the employ of Marie Antoinette was to accompany her as she played sonatas on the harp or fortepiano.

Marie Antoinette playing the Harp in her bedroom (Gautier)

As with almost every aspect of Viotti’s sojourn at Versailles, information is sketchy at best. However inappropriate the role of of violin accmpnanist might seem for Viotti, his Grand Sonata for Harp, with an accompaniment for a violin (ad libitum) epitomises this subservient role. This work was dedicated to Lady Dunmore, at whose soirées he would very likely have met the Comtesse de Boigne, who was an “old friend”.

Jacques Marquet de Montbreton de Norvins-by Dominique Ingres

Jacques Marquet de Montbreton de Norvins (1769-1867) was later Napoleon’s chief of Police in Rome. He described a soirée in the hôtel of the Mme. de la Briches, on the Rue de la Ville Évéque in November 1790, before the ‘tempest’. Cards were being played, whilst Viotti accompanied the niece of the philosophe, Abbé André Morellet (1727-1819), the harpist, Mlle. Belz. The evening was interrupted by the arrival of the recently married Comte and the ‘delicious’ Comtesse de Noailles, nicknamed ‘Madame Etiquette’ by Marie Antoinette, whom she served as ‘First Lady of Honour’. Two years later, the Comtesse made a very different and rather more dramatic entrance into polite society at Brighton, having “travelled by boat disguised as a man, concealed in a giant coil of cable for fourteen hours.”

Anne, Comtesse de Noailles, by Ambrose Charlemagne-Victor Chenetier

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun-self portrait with her daughter