Performing Family at the Keyboard: Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy’s Trio for Three Keyboards in C minor
If one visited the salon of the accomplished musician, composer and salonnière Anne Louise Brillon de Jouy (1744-1824) at Passy in the late 1770s and early 1780s one might be treated not only to the remarkable musical performances by the hostess, but also to her collection of instruments—two fortepianos and a harpsichord—and guests—most notably Benjamin Franklin, who she dotingly referred to as “mon cher Papa.” While accompanied sonatas that enabled sociable musical interactions between Brillon and her male guests appear to have been the mainstay of the salon, works for multiple keyboards likely played by Brillon and her daughters Cunégonde and Aldegonde forged a different, no less important, set of sociable relations for display in the salon—the complex dynamics of the late-eighteenth century bourgeois family.
This essay investigates familial musical interactions in the Trio in C minor, one of two trios written by Brillon for performance with her daughters on English piano, German piano, and harpsichord. Brillon scholar Bruce Gustafson, who has investigated the trio for its organological interest, generally dismisses Brillon’s music as only just saved from “banality.” Though this judgment holds if one looks only at the notes, it seems to miss the point of the work. I will argue that the relevance of the work resides in the performed experience and display of multifaceted relationships between the players on their respective instruments. By situating the performance of the Trio within the contexts of keyboard culture and the shift from harpsichord to piano, Enlightenment family values, and the specific history of the Brillons, I will demonstrate that the work explores the relations between mothers, daughters, sisters, and even paternal providers in the era. In short, it is best understood as a musical performance of family. In exploring these ideas I hope that the project will demonstrate the value in making visible what musicologist Christina Bashford describes as the largely “invisible” world of domestic amateur chamber music (“banal” though it may be) and the strategies musicologists and performers might utilize to uncover this world for modern audiences.