Jean-Baptiste Davaux (1742-1822, French)

Jean-Baptiste Davaux is one of those now forgotten composers, whose memory seems to survive only thanks to the bicentennial of the French Revolution. He doesn’t even get an entry on English Wikipedia, only in French – whence it turns out that he was born in the same village as Berlioz 61 years later, La Côte-Saint-André (between Lyon and Grenoble), and that he invented the metronome (which he called the “chronometer” – of course!) thirty years (1784) before Maelzl did on the prompting of Beethoven. Indeed, I know him only through his Symphony concertante for two violins mixed with patriotic airs, which appears on two different CDs published in the wake of (or in anticipation of) the 1989 celebrations:

Musiques de la Révolution française – Hommage du monde – L’Europe (Davaux, Cambini, Kreutzer). Luis Michal, Marta Carfi, Orchestre de chambre de Bavière Munich. Cybelia CY 841


La Prise de la Bastille: Music of the French Revolution (Davaux, Martin, Dittersdorf, Gossec). Concerto Köln. Capriccio 10 280

Although he was a prolific composer, with 13 such symphonies concertantes, at least three “full” symphonies and 25 string quartets, a search on Amazon yields nothing else from Davaux. The Symphonie concertante is a charming work, written in a galant style far removed from the turmoil of the revolutionary spirit, but also a real composition, with the revolutionary airs – mainly, The Marseillaise in the first movement and the songs La CarmagnoleCadet Roussel and Ah ça ira in the Finale – treated and varied very seriously, as any serious composer of the era would have done with any theme that he could have chosen as a basis for his development. I find the version on Cybelia slightly preferable to Concerto Köln’s, with less interpretive fusiness and better stereo separation between both solo violins, but then Concerto Köln’s overall program is more interesting than Cybelia’s (and total timing more generous). The Cybelia disc, which came with no barcode, is also more difficult to find at an affodable price, so go with Concerto Köln.

Additional resources

A short bio of Davaux in English, from the website of Fountayne Editions, a music publisher that reissued the score of his Symphonie concertante – kudos to that.