Fertile but forgotten
Until about 1960 he was one of the best-kept secrets of French music history: François Devienne, celebrated in late-eighteenthcentury France as a bassoonist and flautist. Although early lexicographers such as Ernst Ludwig Gerber and François-Joseph Fétis still emphasised his importance for Frenchmusic, the reputation of this bassoon and flute virtuoso, and prolific composer, slowly faded in the shadow of his Austrian contemporaries Haydn and Mozart. And with his reputation were forgotten no less than 7 concertante symphonies, 14 flute and 5 bassoon concertos, 25 quartets and quintets for a variety of ensembles, 46 trios,147 duos and 67 sonatas; not to mention more than a dozen comic operas and some 50 songs. All this had been put to paper in the relatively few years in which Devienne devoted himself to composition, for he died at the early age of forty-three. How great is the contrast with the so well documented lives of Haydn and Mozart! In his old age Haydn had the story of his life written down, Mozart was a passionate letter writer, and his father recorded their travels exhaustively.
None of all this in the case of Devienne, however. What we know about his life is just a handful of facts, and further only gaps and question-marks. Such was the fate of so many contemporaries.