Paris: Dessaint & Saillant; Prault, Fils; Lambert; et aux Adresses Ordinaires pour la Musique, 1755. Octavo, measuring 8.5 x 5.5 inches: , 158, , . Contemporary full mottled calf, boards tripled ruled in gilt, red morocco spine label, spine elaborately ornamented in gilt, gilt-stamped patterned endpapers, all edges gilt, peach silk ribbon marker. Dedication to Pompadour and preface before text; woodcut headpieces and tailpieces, engraved plate of the respiratory system in text; table of contents and imprimatur bound after text, followed by 34 numbered, fully engraved pages of musical notation. Monogram bookplate printed in red to front pastedown, ownership signature of Edmond de Goncourt in pink ink to flyleaf. Spine slightly dry, small dampstain to gutter of first few leaves.
First edition of this eighteenth-century guide to the art of singing, dedicated to the famously musical Madame de Pompadour. Now attributed to the Abbé Blanchet, L’Art du Chant opens with an account of “la méchanique de la Voix,” including a startling full-page engraving of a pair of human lungs, with detailed notes on breathing, pronunciation, articulation, and pacing. The work concludes with an engraved songbook that encourages the reader to practice the techniques described in the text, aiming at particular vocal effects: “les sons entrecoupés,” “les sons tendres,” “les sons légers.” L’Art du Chant is dedicated to the royal favorite Pompadour, who by 1755 had retired as Louis XV’s mistress and assumed her final role as friend of the King and informal minister of the arts. Pompadour was a gifted amateur musician whose talents were on full display at Versailles, where she built a private theater and staged a sparkling series of ballets, operas, and comedies to amuse the King. Renowned for her “light, crystalline voice” and mastery of the harpsichord, guitar, and mandolin, she frequently chose to be pictured surrounded by her instruments and scores: “Pompadour situates herself squarely in a stellar lineage of noble French consorts who were performers, patrons, and connoisseurs of music” (Goodman, The Portraits of Madame de Pompadour). This copy belonged to nineteenth-century French man of letters Edmond de Goncourt, founder of the the Académie Goncourt, a writer passionately nostalgic for the musical court ladies of Versailles. In 1860, Edmond and his brother Jules published Les maîtresses de Louis XV, in which the “marvellous aptitude” of Pompadour takes center stage: “her charming voice warbles some charming air, or her fingers awake music from the clavicord . . . she marches [Louis XV] about and carries him with her from diversion to diversion.” Bibliothèque des Goncourt, XVIIIe siècle, 275. A near-fine example of a delightful book, with excellent provenance.