François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829, French)

Gossec was born in the village of Vergnies, then a French enclave in the Austrian Netherlands, now in Belgium, which allows both the French and the Belgian to claim him as one of theirs, and it made me hesitate on his nationality. It is great competition for recordings, but it would make my listings so simpler if France simply annexed Belgium, or at least the French-speaking part of it.

My first encounter with the music of Gossec was through his Requiem (also designated as “Messe des Morts” or “Grande Messe des Morts”), first heard on the French public radio (including a performance by Philippe Herreweghe, who never recorded it commercially – I have that on cassettetape somewhere…), then in the early days of the CD, when it was recorded by Louis Devos for Erato: I found it an extraordinary piece, certainly worthy of Mozart’s own Requiem (and it was composed more than two decades before Mozart’s).

Around 1989 and the celebration of the bicentennial of the French revolution, the Requiem got a performance in Paris. I enthusiastically drew friends well-versed in music to the concert. When I told them about Gossec and his extraordinary Requiem, their reaction was dubious at best, which I ascribed to lack of curiosity and the dominance of the ideology that “posterity makes no mistake” (oh but she does!). After the concert (or even in the midst of the concert) they were scornful.

Of course that kind of reaction casts some amount of doubt in the mind of the intrepid explorer. Could it be my own tastes and standards that were low and undiscriminating, to hear in Gossec’s Requiem a composition on a par with Mozart’s, or were the ears and minds of my friends so stuffed with the cotton of the “posterity makes no mistake” ideology that they were unable to recognize the beauties of the music, because they had decided beforehand that there could be no beauty in the music of a composer unrecognized by posterity?

And now, looking at a program booklet that I kept from that time, it may have been a performance, not of the Requiem, but of the Te Deum. No matter: it is a also a fine piece, certainly not deserving of scorn.

Many years later I plunged again into Gossec’s Requiem when I reviewed a number of recordings of it. Well, my standards apparently haven’t made any progress, because I found the music as extraordinary as before, anticipating in many ways not only Mozart, but even Berlioz, Verdi and Fauré.

These are the versions of the Requiem that I’ve reviewed, with links to the reviews:

Louis Devos, with Bernadette Degelin, Greta de Reyghere, Howard Crook, Kurt Widmer, Maastricht Kamerchor Conservatorium, Musica Polyphonica, rec. 4/86. Erato ECD 75359 (1988, first CD edition) and reissues

Herbert Schernus, with Eva Csapó, Hildegard Laurich, Alessandro Corbelli, Kölner Rundfunkchorn, Cappella Coloniensis, rec. 9/80. Capriccio 10 616 (1992), (SACD) 71 403 (2005)

Diego Fasolis, with Roberta Invernizzi, Maite Arruabarrena, Howard Crook, Claude Darbellay, Gruppo Vocale Canteus, Coro & Orchestra della Radio Svizzera Italiana, rec. 4/98 (+ Symphonie à 17 parties. Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild). 2 CDs Naxos 8.554750-51 (2001)

Other versions in my collection but not yet reviewed:

Jacques Houtmann, with Lia Rottier, Jacqueline Lamy, Francine Bastianelli, Roland Bufkens, Louis Hendrix, Chorus of the Belgian RadioTV, Orchestre Symphonique de Liège, rec. 1979, CD reissue Koch-Schwann CD 313 041 K2 (year of reissue not indicated), barcode 9002723130416

Jean-Claude Malgoire, with Salomé Haller, Ingrid Perruche, Cyril Auvity, Benoît Haller, Alain Buet, Katalin Varkonyi, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Grande Ecurie et Chambre du Roy, Rec. 11/02. K617 152 (2002), barcode  3383510001529

Other great choral works of Gossec in my collection:

Te Deum à grand orchestre (1779). Jill Feldman, Brigitte Lafon, Gérard Lesne, Howard Milner, Glenn Chambers, Choeur National, Choeur et Orchestre de l’Universtié de Paris-Sorbonne, Jacques Grimbert rec. 2/89. Adda 581123 (1989)

Rewiews pending:

Dernière Messe des Vivants (1813). Margot Parès-Reyna, Jacqueline Mayeur, Alexandre Laiter, Michel Piquemal, Choeur Régional Vittoria d’Ile de France, Le Sinfonietta de Picardie, Dominique Rouits rec. 12/89. Koch-Schwann CD 313 078 H1 (1990), barcode 9002723130782

Motet “Terribilis est locus iste” (1777). Kareen Durand, Cyril Auvity, James Oxley, Alain Buet, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Les Agrémens, Jean-Claude Malgoire rec. 12/05 (in “Grands Motets pour Louis XVI”, with works of Grétry and Giroust). K617181 (2006), barcode 3383510001819

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Another significant encounter with the music of Gossec was on the occasion of the extensive investigation I did on the issue of his orchestration (and it turned out to be orchestrationS) of Rouget de Lisle’s Marseillaise and on the sources and authentic instrumentations of a number of revolutionary hymns and songs contained in Erato’s “19 Grands Hymnes  révolutionnaires” (with Rouget de L’Isle’s La Marseillaise, Marche Lugubre, Peuple Eveille-toi, Le Chant du 14 juillet, Potpourri after L’Offrande à la liberté, Hymne à Voltaire, and works of Cambini, Dalayrac, Duvernoy, Méhul, Catel, Gebauer, Ozi, Cherubini). Tibère Raffali, Edwige Perfetti, Orchestre d’Harmonie des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris, Chorale A Choeur Joie La Gondoire, Choeurs de l’Armée française, Claude Pichaureau, rec. 2 & 11/87, 2 & 3/88. Erato Musifrance C 524 (1989), 245 006-2 or 2292-45006-2 (1990). That’s one I am particularly proud of, becaue it involved a lot of research and I have the impression that I undearthed some secrets that had been gathering dust on the shelves of the Paris Opera library and then the French Bibliothèque Nationale for more than two centuries.

More similar CDs of the music of the French revolution in my collection with works of Gossec:

Hymne à la Statue de la Liberté (1793), Invocation (1791). Ghislaine Raphanel, Tibère Raffalli, Jean-Phillipe Courtis, Choeur et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse, Plasson 11-15/6/88 (in “Révolution française” with works of Rouget de Lisle/Berlioz, Méhul, Paisiello). 1 EMI CDC 7 49470 2 (1988), barcode 077774947022

Peuple Eveille-toi !, Le Chant du 14 juillet, La Marseillaise. Orchestre d’Harmonie de la ville du Havre, Choeurs de l’Armée Rouge, Choeurs de l’opéra de Paris, Philippe Langlet, rec. 7/89 (in “Révolution aux choeurs” with Gossec’s Symphonie militaire and works of Duvernoy, Gebauer, Catel, Jadin, Méhul). 1 Adda 590018 (copyright year not provided, presumably released 1991)

And a GREAT online resource (in French) on the works composed by Gossec for the ceremonies and occasions of the French Revolution, by Gossec specialist Claude Role and Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, “François-Joseph Gossec: Musique de la Révolution” (link will open .pdf document in new tab – document can be freely downloaded from Philidor, Centre de Musique Baroque’s online library, but it is impossible to provide a weblink to it, so I’ve taken the liberty to download it here).

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And then, Gossec’s Symphonies and other orchestral music. Gossec composed circa 70 symphonies of various forms, including Symphonies concertantes, “Hunting” and “Military” symphonies or Sinfonia-Overtures on the Italian model. 69 of them were catalogued by Barry S. Brook in his publication of the scores of François-Joseph Gossec. Eight Symphonic Works, Garland, New York, 1983, ISBN 0824038398, 9780824038397 (hence the catalog symbol “B” or “Br”), and again, in 2004, Claude Role and Charles Hénin, under the auspices of Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, the research and production centre on the music of the French “Ancien Regime”, made a systematic catalog of Gossec’s works, including the symphonies (hence their alternative RH catalog numbers). That list can be found in Role’s biography of Gossec, published in 2000 “François-Joseph Gossec, 1734-1829 : un musicien à Paris, de l’Ancien Régime à Charles X“, ISBN-13: 978-2738496782), but it can also be downloaded from, the online library of Centre de Musique Baroque, and here it is. Unfortunately, Role-Hénin do not provide the correspondance with Brook’s catalog, which makes it sometimes tricky to recognize which work is concerned.

Among those, I’ve counted 22 that have been recorded – and very few more than once. I have in my collection a little more than I’ve reviewed, and I’ve reviewed quite a lot. By chronological order of recording/publication:

Marche lugubre, Symphonie à 17 parties. Orchestre de la Societé des Concerts du Conservatoire, Georges Tzipine 10/54 (in “De la Révolution à l’empire” + Méhul, Paisiello, Lesueur). 1 EMI Studio CDM 7 69830 2 (1988)

Symphonie militaire, Marche lugubre. Orchestre de la musique municipale de Bordeaux, Lucien Mora 1987 (in “Musiques de la Révolution française” with works of Rouget de l’Isle, Vogel, Catel, Méhul, Jadin, Devienne, Paisiello, Eler). 1 Cybelia CY 825 (1987)

Symphonie B-flat major op. 6-6. Cappella Coloniensis, Hans-Martin Linde, recording date not provided (in “Sinfonien der Klassik” with works of Vanhal, Mahaut, Kraus). Phoenix Edition 174 (2008)

Marche lugubre. Grande Ecurie et Chambre du Roy, Jean-Claude Malgoire 10/88 (in “Chantons la revolution”, with works of Salieri, Paisiello, Rouget de Lisle, Méhul, Balbastre, Rodolphe Kreutzer, Dussek). CBS CDCBS 45607 (1989)

Marche lugubre. Orchestre d’harmonie des Gardiens de la Paix de Paris, Claude Pichaureau, rec. 2 & 11/87, 2 & 3/88  (in “Les 19 Grands Hymnes révolutionnaires). Erato 245 006-2 or 2292-45006-2 (1990)

Symphonie militaire, Marche lugubre. The Wallace Collection, John Wallace 2/89 (with Berlioz Symphonie funèbre et triomphale and works of Jadin, Cherubini, Lefevre, Rouget de l’Isle). 1 Nimbus NI 5175 (1989), barcodes 083603517526, 0710357517525

Symphony in D op. 3-6. Concerto Köln 4/89 (in “La Prise de la Bastille” with symphonies of Davaux, Dittersdorf/Vandenbroek, Martin). Capriccio 10 280 (1989)

Symphonie militaire. Orchestre d’harmonie de la Ville du Havre, Philippe Langlet 7/89 (in “Révolution aux choeurs” + 3 Hymns and works of Duvernoy, Gebauer, Catel, Jadin, Méhul). 1 Adda 590018 (copyright year not provided, presumably 1991)

Symphonies op. 12-6 (B59), op. 5-2 (B26), op. 12-5 (B58), op. 5-3 “Pastorella” (B27), in D major (B86). London Mozart Players, Matthias Bamert 4/97. Chandos 9661 (1998)

Symphonie à 17 parties. Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Wolf-Dieter Hauschild 1/98 (+ Messe des Morts, cond. Diego Fasolis). 2 Naxos 8.554750-51 (2001)

Four Symphonies: Symphony in C (B85), Symphony No. 1 (B81), Sinfonia périodique à più strumenti (B87), Symphony “La Caccia” (B62). Orchestre de Bretagne, Stefan Sanderling 7/2000. ASV CD DCA 1123 (2001)

Symphony op. 5-5 “Pastorella”. Tafelmusik, Jeanne Lamon 5-6/02 (in “Le Mozart Noir – Music of Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-Georges”). CBC Records SMCD 5225 (2003)

4 symphonies: Symphony op. 5-2 (B55), Grande Simphonie op. 8-2 (B44), Simphonie “No. 2” (B82), Sinfonia a più stromenti op. 5-2 (B26), Gavotte in D, Suite de Danses (orchestration Roger Calmel). Orchestre de Bretagne, Stefan Sanderling 7/02. 1 ASV CD DCA 1124 (2002)

Symphonies: Sinfonia a più stromenti op. 6-3 (B33 / RH24) (c. 1762), Symphonie à grand orchestre “La Chasse” op. 13-4 (B62 / RH59) (1774/1786), Symphonie concertante pour violon & flûte du ballet “Mirza” (B90b / RH 54) (1784), Symphonie à 17 parties (B91 / RH 64) (1809). Concerto Köln 1/03. Capriccio 67 073,  Capriccio C8019 “Encore” (2017)

Symphonies Oeuvre XII (Nos. 1, 3, 5). Les Agrémens, Guy Van Waas 11/02 (with Johann Stamitz: Clarinet Concerto). Ricercar-Outhère RIC 218 (2002)

Trois Grandes Symphonies oeuvre. VIII Nos. 1-3, Sabinus Ballet Suite. Les Agréments, Guy Van Waas 9/06 (S1+2), 9/07 (S3, Sabinus). Ricercar-Outhère Ric 263 (2008)

“Aux Armes, Citoyens!”: La Grande chasse de Chentilli, Chant funèbre sur la mort de Féraud, La Marseillaise, Suite d’Airs révolutionnaires, La Bataille, Andante, La Chasse d’Hylas et Silvie, Quatre Hymnes à la liberté, Simphonie à 6. Les Jacobins, Matthieu Lussier 4/08. ATMA Classique ACD2 2595 (2010), barcode 722056259521

And here is a listing by symphony (organized by rough chronological order of composition/publication), with both the Brook and the Role-Hénin catalog number (when I have them).

op. 3/6 in C major (RH 6): Concerto Köln “La Prise de la Bastille”

Symphonie périodique a più stromenti in D (B 87, RH 21): Sanderling vol. 1

op. 5/2 “a più stromenti” in E-flat major (Br 26, RH 16): Bamert; Sanderling vol. 2

op. 5/3 “Pastorella” in D major (Br 27, RH 17): Bamert; Lamon

op. 6/3 “a più stromenti” in C major (Br 33, RH 24): Concerto Köln

op. 6/6 in B-flat major (RH 27): Cappella Coloniensis dir. Linde

op. 8/1 in E-flat major (Br 43, RH 30): Les Agrémens dir. Van Waas

op. 8/2 in F (Br 44, RH 31): Sanderling vol. 2; Les Agrémens dir Van Waas

op. 8/3 in E-flat major (Br 45, RH 32): Les Agrémens dir Van Waas

op. 12/ 1 in D (Br 54, RH 35): Les Agrémens dir. Van Waas

op. 12/2 in G (Br 55, RH 36): Sanderling vol. 2

op. 12/3 in C (Br 56, RH 37): Les Agrémens dir. Van Waas

op 12/5 in E-flat major (Br 58, RH39): Bamert; Les Agrémens dir. Van Waas

op. 12/6 in F (Br 59, RH40): Bamert

in D major (Br 86, RH 44): Bamert

“La Caccia” in D (Br 62, RH 59): Concerto Köln; Sanderling vol. 1

À grand orchestre in C major (Br 85, RH 47): Sanderling vol. 1

Symphonie Concertante “Mirza” (Br 90b, RH 54): Concerto Köln

Symphonie à huit in B-flat major “No 1” (Br 81, RH 52): Sanderling vol. 1

Symphonie à huit in E-flat major “No. 2” (Br 82, RH 53a): Sanderling vol. 2

Symphonie militaire in F 1794 (RH 62): Wallace Nimbus; Langlet Adda

Symphonie à 17 Parties in F 1809 (Br 91, RH 64): Tzipine; Houtmann Koch; Concerto Köln; Hauschild Naxos

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Gossec’s chamber music remains largely unexplored territory for me. I have in my collection and not yet listened to:

Two Trio-Sonatas op. IX-1 & 3 (1766). Ensemble Hemiolia (with Trios ofMarc-Alexandre Guénin). Euridyce LE001 (2011), barcode 3770003075011

Six Quatuors oeuvre XV. Quatuor Ad Fontes. Alpha 025 (2002), barcode 3760014190254

Comments are welcome