François-André Danican Philidor


Born: September 7, 1726; Dreux, France   Died: August 31, 1795; London, England  
François-André Danican Philidor was one of those rare artists known widely for two professional pursuits: musical composition and chess. In the latter endeavor, he was regarded as the unofficial world champion for most of the 50 years he was active in the game. But he considered music his chief pursuit and in this realm he is best known for his operas.

At age six he was taken into the royal chapel choir in Versailles, where he received
Read more musical instruction from the maître de chapelle, André Campra. At age 11 Philidor composed his first work, a motet that was performed at the chapel to enthusiastic response. The manuscripts to this and his other early works, unfortunately, have not survived. He departed the royal chapel at age 14, the time his voice broke, and settled in Paris, where he assisted Rousseau and taught music. After establishing himself over the next few years as the finest chess player in France, he went on a concert tour of the Netherlands (1745), and then at age 21 made the first of many trips to London.

Philidor lived there from 1749 until 1754, and then returned to Paris, where he attempted to forge a reputation as a composer. He could make no headway either in the sacred realm or in instrumental music, but in 1756 turned to the theater, where his operas were received more favorably. Le Sorcier (1764) was a huge success, and while other efforts like Tom Jones (1765) and Ernelinde, princesse de Norvège (1767) needed considerable revisions before finally attracting large audiences, Philidor was soon regarded as one of the finest composers of opera in Europe.

After Ernelinde's belated acceptance, Philidor's success in the theater was less consistent: Zémire et Mélide (1773) and Berthe (1775) could not attract large crowds, though revised versions of earlier operas were playing to packed houses throughout the 1770s. Philidor's 1779 choral piece Carmen saeculare met with success, however, both in Paris and London, the two cities where he now began dividing his time. He continued writing operas for the French stage, turning out a pair of tragedies -- Persée (1780) and Thémistocle (1785) -- but with little success. In 1793 outbreak of war between France and England left Philidor stranded in the latter country, where he would live out his final years, separated from his wife and family. Read less
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