Open main menu

MONSIGNY, Pierre Alexandre, whom Choron used to call the French Sacchini, born at Pauquembergue near St. Omer, Oct. 17, 1729, showed a taste for music in childhood, and studied the violin with success, though not intended for the profession of music. His father died just as he had completed his classical education, and wishing to help his family, Monsigny went to Paris in 1 749, and obtained a clerkship ' in the Bureaux des Comptes du Clergé. Having good patrons, for his family was a noble one, and being well-educated, refined in manners, and a skilful violinist, he was soon attached to the household of the Duke of Orleans as maître d'hotel, with a salary which placed him above want, and enabled him to provide for his younger brothers. He then resumed his musical studies, and Pergolese's 'Serva Padrona' having inspired him with a vehement desire to compose a comic opera, he took lessons from Gianotti, who played the double-bass at the Opéra and taught harmony on Rameau's system. He was a good teacher, and his pupil made so much progress that it is said Gianotti would not have been averse to putting his own name on the score of 'Les Aveux indiserets' which Monsigny submitted to him after only five months' tuition, and which at once established his fame when produced at the Théâtre de la Foire (Feb. 7, 1759). Encouraged by this first success he composed for the same theatre, 'Le Maître en droit' (Feb. 13, 1760), and 'Le Cadi dupé' (Feb. 4. 1761), which contains an animated and truly comic duet. His next opera, 'On ne's'avise jamais de tout' (Sept. 14, 1761), was the first in which he had the advantage of a libretto by Sedaine, and the last performed at the Théâtre de la Foire, before it was closed at the request of the artists of the Comédie Italienne, in fear of the new composer's increasing reputation. After the fusion of the two companies Monsigny composed successively 'Le Roi et le Fermier,' 3 acts (Nov. 22, 1762); 'Rose et Colas,' 1 act (March 8, 1764); 'Aline, Reine de Golconde' 3 acts, (April. 15, 1766); 'L'lle sonnante,' 3 acts (Jan. 4. 1768); 'Le Déserteur,' 3 acts (March 6, 1769); 'Le Faucon,' 1 act (March 19, 1772); 'La belle Arsène,' 3 acts (Aug. 14, 1775); 'Le rendezvous bien employé,' 1 act (Feb. 10, 1774); and 'Félix ou l'enfant trouvé,' 3 acts (Nov. 24, 1777). After the immense success of this last work he never composed again. He had acquired a considerable fortune as steward to the Duke of Orleans, and Inspector-general of canals, but the Revolution deprived him of his employment, and of nearly all his resources. However in 1798 the sociétaires of the Opéra-Comique came to his assistance, and in recognition of his services to the theatre, allowed him an annuity of 2,400 francs (nearly £100). On the death of Piccinni two years later, he was appointed Inspector of Instruction at the Conservatoire de Musique, but he resigned in 1802, being aware that he could not adequately perform the duties of the office, from his own insufficient training. In 1813 he succeeded Grétry at the Institut; but it was not till 1816 that he received the Legion of Honour. He died Jan. 14, 1817, aged 88, his last years being soothed by constant testimonies of sympathy and respect.

As an artist Monsigny's greatest gift was melody. His desultory training accounts for the poverty of his instrumentation, and for the absence of that ease, plasticity, and rapidity of treatment, which are the most charming attributes of genius. He was not prolific; and either from fatigue, or from a dread of an encounter with Grétry, he ceased to compose immediately after his greatest triumph; his exquisite sensibility, and his instinct for dramatic truth, have however secured him a place among original and creative musicians.

[ G. C. ]