Academic journal article Notes

A Bibliographical Footnote to Benton and Halley: Discovery of Jean-Baptiste Phillis's Methode Courte et Facile

Academic journal article Notes

A Bibliographical Footnote to Benton and Halley: Discovery of Jean-Baptiste Phillis's Methode Courte et Facile

Article excerpt

Our late colleague Rita Benton is remembered and admired for her many accomplishments including a book entitled Pleyel as Music Publisher: A Documentary Sourcebook of Early-Nineteenth-Century Music, which was completed after her death by Jeanne Halley. (1) Reviewing this book for Notes in 1991, Corey Field wrote: "A wealth of detail is beautifully laid out for examination and thoroughly cross-referenced.... This book is a model of its kind.... " (2) Readers familiar with this work know that it lists the publications issued by Ignace Pleyel's firm from its founding in 1795 to its demise in 1834--about four thousand tides in all--an astounding achievement for an early-nineteenth-century music publisher that translates to an average of nearly two new tides engraved, printed, and issued for every week of the company's thirty-nine-year existence. Benton and Halley list Pleyel's publications alphabetically by composer, followed by plate number, opus number, short-tide, and publication date for each entry. The degr ee of detail presented in these categories suggests that, in addition to literary sources, surviving copies were examined whenever possible. Of course, many musical works documented by purely literary evidence--such as publishers' lists or advertisements--are no longer extant, and the objects of Benton and Halley's work proved no exception to this fact. Accordingly, their book alerts the reader to these instances by the use of dashes where data remain incomplete.

This author had occasion to reacquaint himself with Benton and Halley's book in 1997 after acquiring a reproduction of a baroque guitar. For the benefit of those readers unfamiliar with the guitar's historical development, the typical baroque guitar is a smaller instrument than the guitars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (3) Perhaps the most important difference among these instruments, however, is the manner in which they are strung. The baroque guitar employs five courses, or pairs of strings, to which various tuning systems were applied throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; whereas the guitar that came to prominence in the classic era, developed further in the romantic era, and remains in use today, features six single strings and a standard tuning (E-A-d-g-b-[e.sup.1]).

Collecting and studying the repertory of the baroque guitar led to consideration of the transitional period during which the five-course guitar was eclipsed by the six-string instrument--a gray area of simultaneous, confusing, and spottily documented events occupying the closing decades of the eighteenth century, and extending into at least the opening decade of the nineteenth. (4) One of the guitarists of this transitional period to come to this author's attention was a Parisian named Jean-Baptiste Phillis.

Biographical information on Phillis is scant. Alexandre Etienne Choron and Francois Joseph Fayolle misspell Phillis's surname in their Dictionnaire historique des musiciens. (5) They indicate he was a professeur of guitar in Paris who was renowned for his songs and accompaniments, and for a guitar method. The entry also alludes to a lawsuit in which Phillis was a defendant. The plaintiff, who lost the case, consoled himself by publishing a pamphlet in which he--not surprisingly--vilifies both Phillis and Pleyel. (6)

Francois Joseph Fetis reports that Phillis was born in Bordeaux in 1751, established himself in Paris around 1784, and died there on 30 December 1823. (7) At the close of the entry, Fetis provides a list of eight works by Phillis that includes two methods.

As the nineteenth century progressed, Phillis and his compositions fell into obscurity Though one of his methods is listed in the first installment of Carl Friedrich Whistling's Handbuch der musikalischen Liteeratur, (8) by the close of the century Robert Eitner could do little more than quote Fetis in the entry for Phillis in his Biographisch-bibliographisches Quellen-Lexikon, adding that a single copy of Phillis's opus 4--a set of three trios for guitar or lyre guitar with violin and viola owned by the Conservatoire royale de musique in Brussels--was the only work by this composer known to him. …

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