1902 Encyclopedia > François-Adrien Boieldieu

François-Adrien Boieldieu
French composer

FRANCOIS-ADRIEN BOIELDIEU is the chief representa-tive of the national school of comic opera in France, a branch of art in which everything that is most lovable and at the same time most national in the French character has found its full expression. He was born at Rouen in 1775, and received his first musical education from M. Broche, the organist of the cathedral of that city. It is said that, when quite a youth, in order to escape the punishment of a severe master for a slight offence, he went off to Paris on foot, but was discovered and brought back by his parents. He began composing songs and chamber music at a very early age,—his first opera, La Famille Suisse, being produced on the stage of Rouen in 1795, where it met with an enthu-siastic reception. Not satisfied with his local success he turned his eyes to that loadstar of youthful ambition, Paris. He went to the capital in 1795, full of hope and expectation. The score of his opera was submitted to the leading musicians of the day, such as Cherubim, Me'hul, and others, but met with little approbation. Altogether the time was not favourable for the comic muse. The heroic passions roused by the revolutionary events of the preceding years required commensurate efforts of musical art; the grand opera was the order of the day. Boieldieu had to fall back on his talent as a pianoforte-player for a livelihood, and to wait for a chance of higher success in the meantime. This success came at last from a source whence it was little expected, and, perhaps, less desired. Garat, a fashionable singer of the period, admired Boieldieu's touch on the piano, and made him his accompanyist. He also sung in the drawing-rooms of the Directoire the charming songs and ballads with which the young composer supplied him but too willingly. In this manner Boieldieu's reputa-tion gradually extended to wider circles. In 1797 his above-mentioned opera appeared for the first time on a Paris stage, and was well received. Several others followed in rapid succession, of which only the last, Le Calif e de Bagdad (1799), has escaped oblivion. It tends to show Boieldieu's true artistic vocation, that, after the enormous success of this work, he felt the want of a thorough musical train-ing, and voluntarily descended from the position of a successful maestro to that of a humble pupil. He took lessons from Cherubini, and the influence of that great master is distinctly discernible in the higher artistic finish of Boieldieu's later compositions. In 1802 Boieldieu, for the second time in his life, took to sudden flight, on this occasion in order to escape the domestic troubles caused by his marriage with a celebrated ballet-dancer of the Paris Opera. The frightened husband went to Russia, where he was received with open arms by the Emperor Alexander. During his prolonged stay at St Petersburg he composed a number of operas which it is unnecessary to name. He also set to music the choruses of Racine's Athalie, one of his few attempts at the tragic style of dramatic writing. In 1811 he returned to his own country, where the following year witnessed the production of one of his finest works, Jean de Paris. The charming coquetry of the queen of Navarre, the chivalrous verve of the king, the officious pedantry of the seneschal, and the amorous tenderness of the page—all this rendered in the finest touches that music, and only French music, is capable of, will not soon be forgotten. We pass over a number of other operas of lesser value, partly written in collaboration with other com-posers, and turn at once to the second and greatest master-piece of Boieldieu's genius, his Dame Blanche (1825). The libretto, written by Scribe, was partly suggested by Walter Scott's Monastery, and several original Scotch tunes cleverly introduced by the composer add not a little to the melodious charm and local colour of the work. La Dame Blanche marks the highest development of the French school of comic opera. Grétry stood at the head of this school; Cherubini with his Deux Journées followed in his wake; Boieldieu, greater than both (in this particular branch of art), reached a perfection which was to some extent sustained by the works of Auber Boieldieu's pupil, Adam, has in his Derniers Souvenirs d'un Musicien left a charming sketch of the genesis of Boieldieu's masterpiece. The chief characteristics of his style are an easy flow of graceful melodies, a refined though occasionally somewhat meagre instrumentation, admirable phrasing, and a most distinct enunciation of the words. The outer events of Boieldieu's career may be summed up in few words. For a long time he occupied the position of professor of composition and pianoforte at the Conservatoire; in 1817 he was made a member of the Institute. The Dame Blanche was his last opera but one. Soon after its production he was seized with a violent attack of pulmonary disease. To stop the rapid progress of the illness he travelled in Italy and the South of France, but fell a victim to it on October 8, 1834.

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