Open main menu

CONCERT SPIRITUEL. A great musical institution of France, dating from the reign of Louis XV. The Académie Royale de Musique (the Opera House) being closed on the great religious festivals, it occurred to Anne Danican Philidor to give concerts on these occasions in place of the prohibited performances. Having obtained the necessary permission, Philidor entered into an agreement with Francine, the Impresario of the Opera, by which he pledged himself to pay 1000 francs a year, and to perform neither French nor opera music. The first Concert Spirituel accordingly took place between 6 and 8 p.m. on Sunday in Passion Week, March 18, 1725. The programme included a Suite for violin and a Capriccio by Lalande, Corelli's 'Nuit de Noël' (Concerto 8, op. 6), and a 'Confitebor' and 'Cantate Domino' of Lalande, and the concert was most successful. The number of concerts in the year never exceeded twenty-four. They were held in the Salle des Suisses of the Tuileries, on Purification Day, Feb. 2; Lady Day, March 25; on certain days between Palm Sunday and Low Sunday (first Sunday after Easter); Whit Sunday; Corpus Christi Sunday; on Aug. 15, Sept. 8, Nov. 1, 8; Dec. 24, 25—those being the days on which the Opera was closed.

In 1728 Philidor, having previously acquired the right of introducing French and opera music into the programmes, transferred his privilege to Simard, on an annual payment of 3000 francs, and the musical direction of the concerts was confided to Mouret. On Dec. 25, 1734, Thuret, the then Impresario of the Opera, took the concerts into his own hands, and appointed Rebel leader of the orchestra. In 1741 he resigned it to Royer for six years, at an annual rent of 6000 francs; in 1749 Royer renewed the contract on the lame terms, in partnership with Caperan. In 1752 the rent was raised to 7500 francs, and in 1755 to 9000 francs, at which it remained for eight years. On Royer's death in 1755, Mondonville took the direction of the concerts until 1762, when he was succeeded by D'Auvergne, who retained it for nine years in combination with Joliveau and Caperan. In 1771 D'Auvergne and Berton renewed the agreement; but the concerts had for some time been failing, and D'Auvergne—as we learn from a remark by Burney ('Present State,' etc. p. 23)—becoming very poor, cancelled the agreement after a short trial. Gaviniés, in 1773, took the direction with Le Duc and Gossec, and was more successful. Le Gros succeeded him in 1777, with Berthaume as his partner in 1789; but political events gave a fatal blow to the undertaking, and in 1791 the Concerts Spirituels ceased to exist.

We have given the names of the successive Impresarios because many among them are worthy of mention, not as mere speculators, but as true artists. Mouret, Rebel, D'Auvergne, and Berton are among the best composers and leaders of the orchestra that the Académie can show in the 18th century; while Gaviniés, Simon Leduc, Lahoussaye, Guénin, and Berthaume, who conducted the concerts during the last eighteen years of their existence, were all violin-players of very great merit.

Whatever may be said of the vocal music and the French singers at the Concerts Spirituels it must be admitted that foreign artists always met with the most courteous reception, and also that the concerts greatly assisted the progress of music in France, especially by developing a taste for the highest orchestral music. Among the celebrated artists who appeared, it will be sufficient to mention the famous brothers Besozzi, whose duets for oboe and bassoon made furore in 1735; the violinists Traversa, Jarnowick, François Lamotte, Viotti, and Frederic Eck; the horn-players Punto and Rodolphe; Jérome Besozzi and Louis Lebrun (oboe); Etienne Ozi (bassoon); Michel Yost (clarinet), and many others of less repute. Among many illustrious singers we must content ourselves with mentioning Farinelli, Raff, Caffarelli, Davide, Mesdames Agujari, Danzi, Todi, and Mara.

Up to the present time no history of the Concerts Spirituels has been written, though ample materials exist in the monthly 'Mercure de France,' which plainly testifies to the importance of the concert movement and the influence it exercised on musical art in France. To the brilliant success of the Concerts Spirituels must be attributed the creation of many rival societies which served the cause of good music in France, and also encouraged it abroad.

Thus in 1770 the important enterprise of the Concert des Amateurs was founded by d'Ogni and Delahaye at the Hotel Soubise. It was conducted by Gossec, and its solo violin was the famous Chevalier de St. Georges. At these concerts the symphonies of J. B. Toeschi, Van Maldere, Vanhall, Stamitz and Gossec, for wind instruments, were first produced. When the Amateurs removed to the Galerie de Henri III, in the Rue Coq Héron, they adopted the title of Concert de la Loge Olympique, and their orchestra contained the best players of the day. The change took place in 1780, a year after the introduction of Haydn's symphonies into France by the violinist Fonteski. So great was the success of these admirable compositions as to induce the directors to engage the great composer to write six symphonies specially for the society. They date from 1784 to 1789; are in C, G minor, E♭, B♭, D, and A; and were afterwards published in Paris as op. 51, under the special title of 'Répertoire de la Loge Olympique.'

Two similar institutions, the Concert de la Rue de Cléry (1789), and the Concert Feydeau (1794), may be considered as feeble imitations of the Loge Olympique. They had, however, their periods of success—according to Fétis in 1796 and 1802. Among the artists who chiefly contributed to the éclat of the performances we can only name the violinists R. Kreutzer and Rode, Fred. Duvernoy the horn-player, and the singers Garat and Mme. Barbier-Valbonne.

In 1805 the Concerts Spirituels were re-established by the Impresario of the Italian Opera House, and the sacred concerts given during Holy Week in Paris at the Cirque d'hiver, the Conservatoire, and other places, are still known by that name. In fact, in a historical point of view, the Concerts du Conservatoire must be considered as the successors of the Concerts Spirituels and of the Concerts de la Loge Olympique.

The creation of the celebrated Société des Concerts du Conservatoire was due to Habeneck, and its first 'Matinée dominicale' took place on Sunday, the 9th of March, 1828, at 2 p.m., in the theatre of the Conservatoire —the same hour and place at which they are still given. The programme was as follows:—(1) Beethoven's Eroica Symphony; (2) Duet from the 'Semiramide,' sung by Nelia and Caroline Maillard; (3) Solo for Horn, composed and executed by Meifred; (4) an air of Rossini's, sung by Mile. Nélia Maillard; (5) Concerto by Rode, performed by Mr. Eugene Sauzay; (6) Chorus from 'Blanche de Provence'; (7) Overture to 'Les Abencérages'; and (8) the Kyrie and Gloria from the Coronation Mass—all by Cherubini. The effect of this programme was extraordinary.

The concerts are held on Sundays at 7 p.m. The season originally consisted of six concerts, but by degrees the number has been increased to nine. Since Jan. 7, 1866, the same programme has been always repeated on two consecutive Sundays in consequence of a division of the subscribers into 'old' and 'new.' The seats, which originally varied from 2 to 5 francs, are now 5, 9, 10, and 12 francs. The orchestra is composed of 84[1] musicians, 74 of them being 'Sociétaires,' and the other ten assistant members. The following is the list of conductors:—

Conductor Sub-Conductor Date
Habeneck Tilmant ainé Mar. 9, 1828–Ap. 10, 48
Narcisse Girard Ditto Jan. 14, 40–Jan. 60
Tilmant Deldevez 1860–1863
G. Hainl Ditto 1864–March 17, 72
Deldeves Lamoureux May 25, 72–1877
" E. Altes 1877

The choir contains 36 members, with a small number of assistants. M. Heyberger leader.

The répertoire of this society comprises all the symphonies of the classical masters, overtures of every school, oratorios, selections from operas and religious music, choruses with and without accompaniment, pieces for the orchestra alone, ode-symphonies and instrumental solos. For some years the programmes have been more varied than was formerly the case, introducing the works of Schumann, Berlioz, and Wagner, and of the young masters of the modern French school. M. A. El wart published in 1860 his 'Histoire de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire,' and the author of this article has collected materials for a 'Histoire du Conservatoire National de Musique,' which will contain a sketch of the work of that illustrious institution from its foundation by Habeneck to the present date [1878].

[ G. C. ]

  1. Fourteen first and fourteen second violins.