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Great Italian and French Composers By George T. Ferris Characters: 3834

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The French school of light opera, founded by Givtry, reached its greatest perfection in the authors of "La Dame Blanche" and "Fra Diavolo," though to the former of these composers must be accorded the peculiar distinction of having given the most perfect example of this style of composition. Fran?ois Adrien Bo?eldieu, the scion of a Norman family, was born at Rouen, December 16, 1775. He received his early musical training at the hands of Broche, a great musician and the cathedral organist, but a drunkard and brutal taskmaster. At the age of sixteen he had become a good pianist and knew something of composition. At all events his passionate love of the theatre prompted him to try his hand at an opera, which was actually performed at Rouen. The revolution which made such havoc with the clergy and their dependents ruined the Bo?eldieu family (the elder Bo?eldieu had been secretary of the archiépiscopal diocese), and young Fran?ois, at the age of nineteen, was set adrift on the world, his heart full of hope and his ambition bent on Paris, whither he set his feet. Paris, however, proved a stern stepmother at the outset, as she always has been to the struggling and unsuccessful. He was obliged to tune pianos for his living, and was glad to sell his brilliant chansons, which afterward made a fortune for his publisher, for a few francs apiece.

Several years of hard work and bitter privation finally culminated in the acceptance of an opera, "La Famille Suisse," at the Théatre Faydeau in 1796, where it was given on alternate nights with Cherubini's "Médée." Other operas followed in rapid succession, among which may be mentioned "La Dot de Suzette" (1798) and "Le Calife de Bagdad" (1800). The latter of these was remarkably popular, and drew from the severe Cherubim the following rebuke: "Malheureux! Are you not ashamed of such undeserved triumph?" Bo?eldieu took the brusque criticism meekly

and preferred a request for further instruction from Cherubini-a proof of modesty and good sense quite remarkable in one who had attained recognition as a favorite with the musical public. Bo?eldieu's three years' studies under the great Italian master were of much service, for his next work, "Ma Tante Aurore," produced in 1803, showed noticeable artistic progress.

It was during this year that Bo?eldieu, goaded by domestic misery (for he had married the danseuse Clotilde Mafleuray, whose notorious infidelity made his name a byword), exiled himself to Russia, even then looked on as an El Dorado for the musician, where he spent eight years as conductor and composer of the Imperial Opera. This was all but a total eclipse in his art-life, for he did little of note during the period of his St. Petersburg career.

He returned to Paris in 1811, where he found great changes. Méhul and Cherubini, disgusted with the public, kept an obstinate silence; and Nicolo was not a dangerous rival. He set to work with fresh zeal, and one of his most charming works, "Jean de Paris," produced in 1812, was received with a storm of delight. This and "La Dame Blanche" are the two masterpieces of the composer in refined humor, masterly delineation, and sustained power both of melody and construction. The fourteen years which elapsed before Bo?eldieu's genius took a still higher flight were occupied in writing works of little value except as names in a catalogue. The long-expected opera "La Dame Blanche" saw the light in 1825, and it is to-day a stock opera in Europe, one Parisian theatre alone having given it nearly 2,000 times. Bo?eldieu's latter years were uneventful and unfruitful. He died in 1834 of pulmonary disease, the germs of which were planted by St. Petersburg winters. "Jean de Paris" and "La Dame Blanche" are the two works, out of nearly thirty operas, which the world cherishes as masterpieces.

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