Duo from Lucia di Lammermoor, Op. 55 for oboe and cello & piano accompaniment
September 18, 2022: Elaine Douvas, oboe; Joel Noyes, cello; Bryan Wagorn, piano
Henri Brod began studying oboe at the Paris Conservatory at the age of twelve. After receiving the Premier Prix in 1818, he was appointed second oboe in the Paris Opéra orchestra alongside his teacher, Gustav Vogt. Brod filled in as first oboist during Vogt’s absences and succeeded him in 1834. Contemporary accounts often compare the two players—the famous French musicologist and encyclopedist François-Joseph Fétis wrote: “The sound he drew from the oboe was sweeter, smoother and not as forceful as that of his teacher; his phrasing was elegant and graceful; his execution of the virtuosic passages was lively and brilliant.” Brod’s career was all too short—he died just three months short of his fortieth birthday, when he would have received a pension that would have supported his wife and young son.
In another facet of his career, Brod, along with his brother Jean-Godefroy, was an innovative oboe maker, possibly the first in France to add the octave key and to extend the oboe’s range. He also developed a straight English horn as well as baritone and “petit” oboes, and he invented a gouging machine for making reeds. In addition, he is the author of an informative method book in two volumes (1826, 1835), of which at least the first is still readily available in an edition by Valerie Anderson.
As with many performing composers, Brod wrote mainly for his own instrument—opera fantasies, variations, and chamber works such as wind quintets and trios, as well as six oboe sonatas that were among the works he published in his method book. He also composed an opera, Thésée, presumed lost, which was rejected for performance in 1826 but received a partial performance in 1837. A complete list of his works has yet to be made.
Brod’s Duo from Lucia di Lammermoor (or Lucia ed Edgardo, duo de Lucia di Lamermoor de Donizetti arrangé pour hautbois ou clarinette et basson ou violoncelle avec accompaniment de piano, op. 55, as its original title reads) likely dates from around 1837, when Donizetti’s successful 1835 opera was first performed in France. No doubt Brod gave its first performance with some of his Paris Opéra/Conservatory colleagues. The duo appeared in print in 1841, two years after his death.
The original title, Lucia ed Edgardo, is apt because the piece is essentially an arrangement of their extended duet from Act I, Scene 2, with the bassoon taking the role of Edgardo, laird of Ravenswood, and the oboe that of Lucia Ashton. The story, set in Scotland, revolves around the love affair they are carrying on despite the bitter feud between their two families. Before the tragic events of her madness and both their deaths, Edgardo meets Lucia secretly to say that he must leave for France, and he wants to make peace with her brother Enrico so he can ask for her hand in marriage. She begs Edgardo to keep their relationship secret, which rekindles his anger against Enrico.
This is the point at which the Duo picks up the story. After the three instruments provide a portentous introduction, Lucia (oboe) tries to calm Edgardo (bassoon), but he begins singing mournfully about the tomb of his betrayed father on which he swore revenge. She tries again to calm him and tells him to banish all feelings but love. After a grand pause, a martial-sounding section signals Edgardo’s resolve as he hits on the idea of marrying her on the spot. They exchange rings and call on heaven to witness their vows. The lovers must part, which brings on a wistful mood, and the final section lilts as they sing of the breeze that will carry their ardent sighs. Brod caps the piece with a virtuoso coda of his own design.
© Jane Vial Jaffe