Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny (Template:Birth dateTemplate:Death date) was a French composer, a contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a member of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts (1813).

He is considered alongside André Ernest Modeste Grétry and François-André Danican Philidor to have been the founder of a new musical genre, the opéra comique, laying a path for other French composers such as François-Adrien Boïeldieu, Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, Charles Gounod, Georges Bizet, and Jules Massenet in this genre.

Paul Dukas is quoted as saying, “Of all the composers of our country, he may be the first who had the gift of true, human emotion, of communicative expression and of fair feeling”.

Biography

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny was born at Fauquembergues, near Saint-Omer, in the former Artois region of France (now Pas-de-Calais), four months before the marriage of his parents, Marie-Antoinette Dufresne and Nicolas Monsigny.

He was educated at the Collége des Jésuites Wallons in Saint-Omer. It was here that he first discovered his aptitude for music.

As the eldest child, in 1749, a few months after his father's death, he left for Paris with only a few coins in his pocket, a violin and a recommendation letter, in an attempt to further his musical career and provide for his siblings. He entered into the service of a 'Mr. de Saint-Julien, in the bureau of the Comptabilité du Clergé de France. In 1752, after watching a performance of La serva padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi at the National Opera of Paris, he decided upon his true vocation. He then became Gianotti's student, and a counter-bassist at the Paris Opéra.

Secretly, with a booklet of La Ribardière, he wrote Les Aveux indiscrets, his first comical opera, which premiered at the theater of Saint-Germain in February 1759. This work was well-received and encouraged him to compose a second opera, in two acts, on a libretto by Pierre-René Lemmonier. Le Maître en droit, the following year, received the same response. Michel-Jean Sedaine, a well-liked librettist, proposed to Monsigny to collaborate with him, following Le Cadi dupé's success. Their common production was excellent: On ne s'avise jamais de tout, Le Roi et le fermier and Rose et Colas. On April 15, 1766, at the Académie royale de Musique, his epic ballet in three acts Aline, reine de Golconde was not as successful as expected. The critics were harsher two years later, with L'Île sonnante. The music, it is true, preserves its usual grace of Monsigny's touch. However, Charles Collé's booklet happened to be unadapted and justified its little success.

It is during this same year of 1768 that the composer bought the charge of Head Waiter at the service of the Duke d'Orleans. This patronal environment favored a little more his inspiration. Michel-Jean Sedaine submitted his booklet, Le Déserteur, for which he composed his most successful score. Yet Le Faucon, created in 1771 was a failure. On August 17, 1775, La Belle Arsène caused controversy among critics.

In 1777, following the success of Félix ou l'Enfant trouvé, Monsigny stopped composing. At the beginning of 1784, he married Amélie de Villemagne, with whom he lived peacefully until 1789. The French Revolution and the Terror deprived them of all their material existence. The musician and his family sank into deep misery and oblivion for a few years. Hearing of the composer's state of poverty, the members of the Comical Opera gave him a pension of 2400 pounds, in order to prove their gratitude to one of the founders of their theater.

The years of adversity came to an end and Monsigny reached once again his deserved success. He became inspector of teaching at the Conservatoire de Musique de Paris. In 1804, he received the title of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. In 1813, he succeeded Grétry at the Institute. Total blindness afflicted his last years. Monsigny died in Paris.

Works

  • Les aveux indiscrets (1759)
  • Le maître en droit (1760)
  • On ne s'avise jamais de tout (1761)
  • Le cadi dupé (1761)
  • Le roi et le fermier (1762)
  • Le nouveau monde (1763)
  • Rose et Colas (1764)
  • Aline, reine de Golconde (1766)
  • Philémon et Baucis (1767)
  • L'île sonnante (1768)
  • Le déserteur (1769)
  • Le faucon (1772)
  • La belle Arsène (1773)
  • Félix ou L'enfant trouvé (1777)

Bibliography

  • P.J.B. Nougaret: De l’art du théâtre (Paris, 1769)
  • A.E.M. Grétry: Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique (Paris, 1789, 2/1797)
  • A. Pougin: Monsigny et son temps (Paris, 1908)
  • D. Heartz: ‘The Beginnings of Operatic Romance: Rousseau, Sedaine, and Monsigny’, Eighteenth Century Studies, xv (1981–2), 149–78
  • B.A. Brown: Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna (Oxford, 1991)
  • K. Pendle: ‘L'opéra-comique à Paris de 1762 à 1789’, L’opéra-comique en France au XVIIIe siècle, ed. P. Vendrix (Liège,1992), 79–178
  • R. Legrand: ‘L'opéra comique de Sedaine et Monsigny’, Michel Sedaine (1719–1797): Theatre, Opera and Art, ed. D. Charlton and M. Ledbury (Aldershot, forthcoming)




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