Feature Article: A French Dynasty of Master Woodwind Makers Revealed, Bizey, Prudent and Porthaux, Their Workshop in Paris, rue Dauphine, St. André des Arts, ca. 1745–1812: New Archival Documents.
By Tula Giannini
Since the publication of my book, Great Flute Makers of France, the Lot and Godfroy Families, 1650–1900 (London: Tony Bingham, 1993), I have been working on a book about the history and development of the French baroque based on research in France across a wide range of sources including instruments, musical iconography, early music prints, theoretical works, 18th-century texts, and important archival documents that bring to light new historical and biographical information on 17th- and 18th-century French woodwind makers and players. Featured are woodwind families such as Hotteterre, Chédeville, Pièche, Hannès Desjardins, Pignon Descouteaux, and Rousselet, leading flute soloists such as Philibert, de La Barre, Blavet, and Devienne, and importantly, master woodwind makers of Paris, among whom we find Bizey, Prudent, and Porthaux, the makers featured in the following article. Their lives, typical of woodwind makers of their era, were intricately connected by the social and legal institutions governing them, be it the Paris Community of instrument makers, the Académie royale de musique, the King’s chamber, chapel and ecurie, or contracts of apprenticeship, marriage and inheritance. Adherence to French aesthetic and cultural values characterizes their work, and brings cohesion to its related elements of composition, pedagogy and performance practice.
An oboe by Porthaux; a flute by Prudent. Photo © Tony Bingham, London.
Marriage was an accepted means of securing a place in the master maker’s workshop, and of purchasing it at his death. Whereas the recognized early masters of string instrument making were Italian, their instruments preferred by French royalty, French masters held the leadership position for woodwinds, in part, as the book will document, because they introduced and established new designs for baroque woodwinds that were then emulated and copied throughout Europe. French baroque woodwinds not only boasted a new look, but a new sound, a greater range of musical expression and expanded technical capabilities. Thus, they assumed an important musical voice in French orchestral, chamber and solo music, and as this material illustrates; we note here, that it was a voice often heard through the instruments of Bizey, Prudent and Porthaux.Here follows some documentation that I have found working in French archives which offers new information on workshops of these three major French 18th-century woodwind makers.
Scholars have long recognized Charles Bizey, Prudent Thieriot, and Dominique Porthaux as important 18th-century woodwind makers. Their surviving instruments are treasures of museum and private collections. This article presents archival documents that reveal that they were in turn master makers of the same workshop on the rue Dauphine, parish of St. André des Arts, first established by Bizey, ca.1745 when he moved there from the rue Mazarine, his location from ca.1716, the year he became a master maker in Paris. Through the documentation of apprenticeship and marriage, professional affiliations and family ties, a dynasty of woodwind makers emerges, its makers important not only for the impeccable quality of their work, but equally for their contributions to the development and art of woodwind making and playing.
On 27 April 1747 Prudent Thieriot signed an agreement of apprenticeship with Charles Bizey.
Today before the notaries of Paris signed below Sieur Prudent Bizey living in Paris rue Dauphine parish of St. André des Arts chez le Sieur his uncle here after named, son aged 16 of the deceased Jean Baptiste Prudent Bizey, surgeon in Bourbonne province of Loraine and Elizabeth Bejard his wife at present his widow—who for his profit and advantage recognizes to take in apprenticeship for six years complete and consecutive which began today and runs from this day with Sieur Charles Bizey, his great-uncle, master and merchant maker of woodwind instruments in Paris former expert (ancien juré) of his community [the Paris community of woodwind makers] living on the said rue Dauphine and Parish, from today who takes and retains the said Prudent Bizey for his apprentice during the said time and promised to show and teach him his said trade. . . .
Although the contract is duly signed "Bizey" and "Prudent Bizey," a few weeks later on 17 May, in recognition of the incorrect identification of the apprentice to be, the agreement was nullified and replaced that day by a new one, this time with the correct and "true" identity of Prudent. The document certifies that "Prudent Bizey" is actually Prudent Thieriot, "the truth being that the said Prudent Thieriot is the son of Prudent Thieriot and Jeanne Belin his wife, of La Bourbonne les Bains."
The new agreement reads: "Prudent Thieriot dit Bizey living in Paris with the Sieur his master hereafter named, son of Prudent Thieriot and Jeanne Belin of Bourbonne les Bains, the said Thieriot about 17 years old." A few days later, on 22 May, the agreement was officially ratified by the Paris community of musical instrument makers in the persons of "Sieur François Henry Lesclop living Isle Notre Dame rue Regratière parish St. Louis and Jean Henry Hemsch living rue Quincampoix parish of St. Nicolas des Champs, both masters and merchants, makers of musical instruments in Paris presently experts now in charge of their community. . . ."
On 18 April 1751 in Paris, Bizey married Anne Marguerite Chalopet, the daughter of Sieur Brice Chalopet, a merchant living in Eclance, diocese of Troyes near Bourbonne les Bains, the region in which Prudent’s parents were residing, and Anne Marguerite Merat. (The parish records of St. André des Arts indicate 12 June of that year.) As the bride’s parents were not present, Sieur Antoine Sailly, a paymaster living on the rue Dauphine, was given authority to represent them by a document notarized in Bar sur Aube on 18 March; it refers to Bizey as "Charles Joseph." Prudent Thieriot attended the marriage signing the contract "Prudent Bizey" showing that he was considered a member of the Bizey family. This ambiguity seems to explain why he signed his instruments simply "PRUDENT." The contract states that husband and wife would share equally in the instrument business, but does not suggest its actual value. If there were no children from the marriage, the surviving spouse would inherit both shares. In addition, Chalopet was given an annuity of 300 livres.
A month after Bizey’s marriage, 16 May 1751, Anne Chalopet, daughter of deceased Nicolas Chalopet and sister of Bizey’s first wife, Elizabeth Simone Chalopet, sold land to Bizey that she inherited at her father’s death. Bizey paid 560 livres for several tracts of land in the region of Eclance near Bar sur Aube in Champagne.
Bizey’s first marriage to Elizabeth Simone Chalopet named above, took place in Paris, St. Sulpice on 12 January 1742. Shortly after her death, he married Anne Simone Villars who was related to the master woodwind maker, Paul Villars. A 1747 document of notoriété states that at the death of Anne Simone Villars, because there were no children from the marriage, an inventory was not taken.
This is made clear from a document of "Obligation et Delegation" of 18 April 1746, and an addendum dated the next day for payment of moneys owed to Charles Bizey by Nicolas Hannès Desjardins for which "the Sieur Bizey gave power [to represent him] to Demoiselle Anne Simone Villars his wife." The document shows that Bizey was owed 1200 livres—684 livres 15 sols on the treasury of the "Comédians Italiens," and from 7 January 1743 to the present, 515 livres 5 sols "for money and merchandise that the said Sieur Bizey lent and furnished to Nicolas Hannès Desjardins oboist to the King’s chamber and the second company of the musketeers of the King," who offered to facilitate payment by drawing upon moneys he inherited at the death of his uncle, Jean Baptiste Hannès Desjardins, formerly, "oboist to the King’s chamber and first company of the musketeers."
On 6 April 1758 Prudent Thieriot married Marguerite Chalopet, sister of Anne Marguerite Chalopet, Bizey’s wife. By that date, Bizey had died, as the marriage contract is signed "Chalopet veuve Bizey." The contract states that Prudent’s mother is deceased while his father, living in Bourbonne les Bains and consenting to the marriage, is described as a wood worker (menuisier), which suggests that at an early age, Prudent was trained by his father as a turner in wood. Chalopet’s parents, still living in Eclance, did not attend the marriage and were represented by Edmé Robin, a master limonadier in Paris. Prudent brought to the marriage 800 livres in "merchandise, tools and utensils of his profession, household goods including savings and earnings, plus 600 livres one time paid." The future wife brought 400 livres in clothes, savings, and earnings.
Importantly, at Bizey’s death Prudent became master maker of the workshop on the rue Dauphine. He had not married the master’s daughter to gain access to the business as was customary, but instead, the sister of the widow Bizey. That the Thieriot and Chalopet families lived in the same region of France, the villages of Eclance and Bourbonne les Bains near Troyes, and Bar sur Aube in Champagne, no doubt contributed to their close association.
On 10 November 1777 Dominique Porthaux, the son of François Porthaux and Madelaine Genest, married Elizabeth Thieriot, Prudent’s sister, making him a member of the Bizey/Chalopet/Thieriot family. The same year on 10 June, he secured the position of wine inspector for the city of Paris based on an annuity of 25,000 livres in principal, yielding 1000 livres per year. Both Prudent and Porthaux had several children. In fact, Prudent’s brother Nicolas is described as a luthier in the marriage contract of his daughter, Marie Louise. When she married Sieur François Lanier, a master baker living in Paris, rue and parish St. Sauveur, 8 January 1780, most members of the bride’s family were present: "her younger sisters, Marie Suzanne and Anne Victoire, Nicolas Thieriot, uncle, Jean Honoré Marsot, master perfume maker and Anne Marguerite Chalopet his wife, maternal aunt, and Sieur Dominique Porthaux, master luthier in Paris, and Dlle Elizabeth Thieriot his wife, a paternal aunt of the said future wife."
After almost twenty years of running the instrument business, Prudent Thieriot died on 9 December 1786. At the request of his wife and children an inventory was taken. Among his several children, his son Jean Baptiste Prudent was received as a master in his father’s workshop 18 September 1771.
Christophe Delusse was a close associate of Porthaux. When he died in 1792, an inventory was taken of his instrument business; I discovered the document reference only to find that the inventory had been destroyed in a fire chez le notaire—quelle tristesse!
Prudent’s workshop inventory, p. 1, reproduced here showing
signatures of Delusse, Porthaux and Mme. Chalopet. Note that flute descriptions
do not indicate number of keys: "three ebony flutes with silver keys priced
72 livres; six ebony flutes without keys price 90 livres; 45 boxwood flutes
mounted priced together 60 livres." A few muti-keyed flutes by Prudent
are listed in Young, 4900 Historical Woodwind Instruments. In sum,
instruments priced number about 885: 142 clarinets, 130 flutes, 30 tierces
(flutes), 258 flageolets, 41 recorders, 205 bassoons, several octave oboes
& bassoons, 22 oboes, and 50 piccolos.
Prudent’s widow, Marguerite Chalopet, sold the instrument business to Dominique Porthaux for 6807 livres based on its estimation by Delusse and Porthaux. By 5 November Porthaux had paid the full amount plus 5 percent interest, equaling 7022 livres.
Moneys owed by the estate of Devienne at his wife’s death in 1790, reveal that Devienne was purchasing instruments from Porthaux. The entry reads, "to the Sieur Porteau [sic] maker of woodwind instruments 200 livres." Devienne’s instruments are listed as two transverse flutes and a bassoon.
24 April 1806, Porthaux’s Son, Dominique Prudent, Marries Mlle. Claire Marie Madelaine Ettingshaussen; He Inherits the Musical Instrument Business
Shortly after the death of Elizabeth Thieriot, Porthaux’s son married and inherited the instrument business. The famed bassoonists, Etienne Ozi and Thomas Joseph Delcambre, and the clarinetist Jacques Charles Duvernoy were present. In 1812, after only six years of marriage, Dominique Prudent disappeared without word; by them, he and Mme. Ettingshaussen had had several children. When his father-in-law, Jean-Philippe Ettingshaussen, died the next year, his wife inherited part of a grand house on the boulevard Montparnasse no. 28.
For Prudent and then Porthaux, reed instruments occupied a major part of their output. Although 18th-century woodwind makers manufactured a range of woodwinds, they tended to specialize by type, divided by flute type on the one hand, and reeds on the other. For the workshop on the rue Dauphine, the reeds seem to represent its specialty from oboes by Bizey to bassoons by Porthaux, while also recognizing that extant flutes by Bizey and Prudent attest to their makers’ mastery of the art of flute-making. Clearly, Prudent capitalized on the emergence of the clarinet as an important and popular woodwind. The large quantity he manufactured as evidenced by the workshop inventory 1786, bears this out. As masters of French 18th-century reed instrument making, they were ideally positioned to exert a pivotal influence on its development and design, just as the makers of the Naust/Delerablée/Lot workshop were leaders for the development of the flute. That but a few workshops dominated French 18th- century woodwind making, due in part to the exclusivity of the Paris community of instrument makers (1772–73 Prudent was juré comptable [juror responsible] for the community’s receipts and expenses, succeeding Thomas Lot, juré, 1770–72), amplifies even more the importance of these makers. The association of Bizey, Prudent, and Porthaux provides a new basis for a fresh look at the instruments they manufactured. Their highly successful and lucrative workshop well-served royal music-making during the 18th century, surviving as well the ravages of the French Revolution. Always dedicated to their art, they skillfully modified woodwind design as musical style evolved supplying musicians instruments that perfectly expressed the look and sound of French musical culture.
— © Tula Giannini, Ph.D., MLS, Asst. Prof., Catholic University of America, author of Great Flute Makers of France the Lot and Godfroy Families,1650-1900. London: Tony Bingham, 1993.