A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Philidor
PHILIDOR. A numerous family of French musicians, the founder being Michel DANICAN, a native of Dauphine", who died in Paris about 1650. He was a good oboist, and Louis XIII, who had considerable knowledge of music, was so delighted with his playing that he exclaimed, 'I have found another Philidor.' Filidori of Siena had formerly been a favourite oboist at court, and the king's compliment procured Michel Danican the surname of 'Filidor'—or Philidor according to French spelling. Eventually the family name was virtually suppressed, and the nickname took its place. Tradition, unsupported however by documentary evidence, states that the first Michel Danican-Philidor became a member of the Chapelle of Louis XIII, and left two sons; but if so, the name of the younger was Jean, and not André, as stated by Fétis, whose account of this family is erroneous on more points than might have been expected from one so prompt in correcting the mistakes of others.
2. The second Michel Danican-Philidor became one of the king's musicians in the Grande Ecurie in 1651, and died in 1659, leaving no children. He was fifth player of the 'Cromorne' and 'Marine Trumpet,' instruments recently introduced into the royal band, and retained till the Revolution.
3. Jean—born about 1620, died in Paris Sept. 8, 1679 had a numerous family, his sons and grandsons being the most celebrated of the Philidors. In 1659 he became lifer in the Grande Ecurie, and at his death was first player of the cromorne and marine trumpet. He is said to have composed dance-music, preserved by the eldest of his sons,
4. André ('Philidor l'ainé), who succeeded his uncle Michel as fifth player of the same instruments in the Grande Ecurie. Supposing him to have been 12 at that time, he would have been born about 1647. He married young, and his first wife, Marguerite Monginot, bore him 16 children, of whom Anne, Michel, and François, distinguished themselves as musicians. The exertions necessary for the support of so numerous a family were no hardship to one of his active and laborious disposition. He was a member of the Grande Ecurie, the Chambre, and the Chapelle, of Louis XIV; played the bassoon, cromorne (his two best instruments), oboe, marine trumpet, and even the drum when required; and after competing, at the king's request, with Lully in writing bugle-calls, fanfares, and military marches, composed divertissements for the court. Of these were produced, in presence of the king or the dauphin, a comic divertissement, 'Le Canal de Versailles' (July 16, 1687), 'Le Mariage de la Couture avec la grosse Cathos' (1688), and 'La Princesse de Crète,' an opéra-ballet, the autograph of which was in his valuable collection of unpublished music. To these three works should be added 'La Mascarade du Vaisseau Marchand,' produced at Marly before Louis XIV, Thursday, Feb. 18, 1700, and hitherto unnoticed. The splendid collection referred to included all the dance-tunes in favour at court from the reign of Henry III to the end of the 17th century; all the divertissements and operas of Lully and a few other composers; a selection of old airs, bugle-calls, military marches, and fanfares for the court hunting-parties; and finally all the sacred music in use in the Chapelle. André formed it during the time he was Librarian of the King's musical library, from 1684 to his death. It was originally in the library of Versailles, and the greater part of it, 57 vols., in his own hand, was transferred to the library of the Paris Conservatoire, which now however possesses only 36, the other 21 having either been purloined by some unscrupulous collector of rare MSS, or perhaps used for lighting fires. A few other portions are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Bibliothèque de Versailles.
This remarkable man, with an excellent judgment and an even, cheerful temper, possessed an iron constitution. About 1719 he married Elisabeth Le Roy, a young girl of 19, by whom he had five children, the third being François André, the celebrated composer. He retired on a pension in 1722, and died Aug. 11, 1730, at Dreux, whither he had removed from Versailles, probably about the time of his marriage. His brother,
5. Jacques, known as Philidor le Cadet, born in Paris May 5, 1657, entered the Grande Ecurie when a little over 12 as fifer, and was afterwards promoted to the oboe, cromorne, and marine trumpet. In 1683 he was admitted to the Chapelle, and in 1690 to the Musique de la Chambre, in which he played the bassoon. He was a favourite with Louis XIV, who gave him some land at Versailles, where he built a house and died, May 27, 1708. He was an amiable man, and led a quiet, happy life, on the best of terms with his brother, in whose collection his compositions were preserved—marches for drums and kettle-drums, airs for oboe, and dance-music. The military music is still in the library at Versailles, but the rest has disappeared. Jacques had by his wife, Elisabeth Hanique, 12 children, of whom four sons, Pierre, Jacques, François, and Nicolas, became musicians. Thus the two brothers André and Jacques, Philidor l'ainé and Philidor le cadet, left a numerous progeny. We now revert to the four sons of André: the eldest,
6. Anne, born in Paris April 11, 1681, before he was 20 produced at court, through the patronage of his godfather, Duke Anne de Noailles, three pastorales, 'L'Amour vainqueur' (1697), 'Diane et Endymion' (1698), and another (Marly, 1701), name unknown, included in one of the lost vols. of the Collection Philidor. In 1702 he obtained the survival of his father's posts in the Grand Ecurie and the Chambre, and in 1704 became oboist in the Chapelle, often playing before Louis XIV, who had a predilection for the instrument. He also composed; but his real title to a place in the history of music is that he was the founder of the 'Concerts Spirituels,' though he conducted them for two years only (1725–27). The time and manner of his death are uncertain. Laborde says that, after having directed the concerts of the Duchesse du Maine, he became Surintendant de la Musique to the Prince de Conti; but I have not been able to verify these assertions; and, as every one knows, the regular musician of the celebrated 'nuits de Sceaux' was Joseph Mouret (born at Avignon, 1682, died insane at Charenton, 1738), called 'le musicien des grâces,' from the freshness of his melodies and fertility of his ideas.
7. Michel, the second son, and third Philidor of the name, born at Versailles in 1683, a godson of Michel de Lalande, played the drums in the king's band. All that need be said of him is that Fétis's account is incorrect in every particular.
8. François, born at Versailles in 1689, entered the Chapelle in 1708 as player on the bass cromorne and marine trumpet. In 1716 he became oboist in the Chambre, and bass violinist in the Grande Ecurie. He seems to have died either in 1717 or the beginning of 1718, leaving some small compositions—amongst others, two books of 'Pièces pour la flute traversiere' (Ballard, 1716 and 1718). The youngest of the brothers was
PHILIDOR, François André Danican, the great composer and chess-player, born at Dreux Sept. 7, 1726. As a child he showed an extraordinary faculty for chess, which he saw played by the musicians of the Chapelle du Roi. Being a page of the Chapelle he had a right to music-lessons, and learned the fundamental rules of harmony from André Campra (born at Aix, Dec. 4, 1660, died at Versailles, July 29, 1744), composer of numerous operas, and the most original of the French musicians between Lully and Rameau. At the close of his time as page he came to Paris, and supported himself by giving lessons and copying music. Discouraged perhaps by the difficulties of an artist's career, he gave himself up entirely to chess, and, with a natural gift for abstruse calculations, studied it to such purpose that at 18 he was a match for the best players, and able to make a livelihood out of it. Being however hard pressed by his creditors, he started in 1745 on a tour abroad, going first to Amsterdam, where he pitted himself successfully against Stamina, author of 'Les Stratagèmes du jeu d'échecs.' Thence he went on to Germany, and spent some time in 1748 at Aix-la-Chapelle, occupied in a work on the principles of the game. He next, on the invitation of Lord Sandwich, visited the English camp between Maestricht and Bois-le-Duc, and was well received by the Duke of Cumberland, who invited him to come to London and publish his 'Analyse du jeu des échecs.' The subscriptions of the English officers encouraged him to accept the invitation, and he arrived in England, where he eventually acquired a profitable celebrity. The first edition of his book appeared in 1749, and met with great and deserved success. It was during this first stay in London that Philidor performed the remarkable feat at the Chess-Club of playing and winning three games simultaneously against first-rate players without seeing the boards. Concentration of mind and power of combination, when carried to such an extent as this, almost merit the name of genius.
Meantime Diderot, and his other friends, fearing that the continual strain of the pursuit for which he was forsaking his true vocation might prove too severe, recalled him to Paris in 1754. He began at once to compose. His motet 'Lauda Jerusalem' did not procure him the place of a 'Surintendant de la Musique' to the king, at which it was aimed, but the disappointment turned his attention to dramatic music. His first opéra-comique, 'Blaise le Savetier' (1759), a brilliant success, was followed by 'L'Huitre et les Plaideurs' (1759); 'Le Quiproquo,' 2 acts, and 'Le Soldat Magicien' (1760); 'Le Jardinier et son Seigneur,' and 'Le Maréchal' (1761); 'Sancho Pança' (1762); 'Le Bûcheron' and 'Les Fêtes de la Paix,' intermezzo written on the conclusion of peace with England (1763); 'Le Sorcier,' 2 acts (1764); 'Tom Jones,' 3 acts (1764); 'Mélide, ou le Navigateur,' 2 acts (1766); 'Le Jardinier de Sidon,' 2 acts (1768); 'L'Amant déguisé' (1769); 'La nouvelle Ecole des Femmes,' 2 acts (1770); 'Le bon Fils' (1773); and 'Les Femmes vengées,' 3 acts (1775), all given either at the Théâtre de la Foire, or at the Comédie Italienne. Besides these he composed a Requiem performed in 1766 on the anniversary of Rameau's death at the Oratoire, and produced the tragedy of 'Ernelinde,' his best work, at the Opéra (Nov. 24, 1767; reproduced in 1769 as ' Sandomir').
These successes did not cure him of his passion for chess. In 1777 he returned to London, brought out a second edition of his 'Analyse,' and set to music Horace's 'Carmen seculare' with flattering success (1779).
On his next return to Paris he found Grétry and Gluck at the height of their popularity; but, nothing daunted, he composed 'Persée' (Oct. 27, 1780), and 'Thémistocle' (May 23, 1786), both in 3 acts, produced at the Académie without success, and 'L'Amitié au village' (1785) and 'La belle esclave, ou Valcour et Zéila' (1787). 'Bélisaire,' 3 acts, was not given at the Opéra in 1774 as stated by Fétis, but at the Théâtre Favart (Oct. 3, 1796) a year after Philidor's death.
He received a regular pension from the Chess Club in London, and it had been his habit to spend several months of every year in England. In 1792 he obtained permission for the journey from the Comité du Salut public, but events prevented his return to Paris, and when his family had succeeded in getting his name erased from the list of Emigrés, they learned that he had just died in London, Aug. 31, 1795.
To estimate Philidor's work rightly, the condition of the French stage at the time he began to write must be taken into consideration; he will then appear to have possessed not only greater originality, but art of a higher kind than that of his contemporaries Duni, Monsigny, and Grétry. His harmony is more varied, and the form and character of his airs new. He was the first to introduce on the stage the 'air descriptif' ('Le Marechal'), and the unaccompanied quartet ('Tom Jones'), and to form a duet of two independent and apparently incongruous melodies. Moreover he understood to a degree then rare the importance of the orchestra and chorus, and undoubtedly surpassed his compatriots in instrumentation. He enjoyed an almost unexampled popularity in his day, being called forward after the representation of his 'Sorcier'—the first instance of the kind in Paris. Nevertheless his works have not lived, probably because their merit lay in construction, rather than in melody, grace, or depth of sentiment. Nor had he dramatic instinct at all in the same degree as Monsigny or Grétry. There is a fine bust of Philidor by Pajou, and an excellent portrait by Cochin, engraved by St. Aubin in 1772.
The four sons of Jacques Danican Philidor le cadet may be dismissed in few words. The eldest,
Pierre, born in Paris, Aug. 32, 1681, in the same house with his cousin Anne, studied with him; became oboist in the Chapelle (1704), the Grande Ecurie (1708), and the Chambre (1712), and was also a good player on the flute and the viol. He was a player on the viol in the Chambre as late as 1736, but had resigned his other places in favour of his brother Nicolas in 1726. He died probably about 1740. He composed a pastorale, produced before the court at Marly (1697), and three books of 'Suites à 2 flûtes traversières seules, et pour dessus et basses de hautbois' (1717 and 18).
Jacques, born at Versailles Sept. 7, 1686, succeeded his father as oboist in the Chambre, and died about 1725.
François, born Jan. 12, 1695, at Versailles, where he died Nov. 1726, was oboist in the Chambre and the Grande Ecurie.
Nicolas, born at Versailles, Nov. 3, 1699, died 1769, played several instruments, succeeded his brother Pierre, and in 1747 played the serpent in the Chapelle Royale. He is not known to have composed.
The singer Fanchon Danican Philidor mentioned by Fétis, is an imaginary person.For further information the reader is referred to Lardin's 'Philidor peint par lui-même' (Paris, 1847), republished from the periodical 'Le Palamède' (Jan. 1847), and to 'Les Philidor, généalogie biographique des musiciens de ce nom,' a conscientious study which appeared in 'La France musicale' (Dec. 22, 67, to Feb. 16, 68.)
[ G. C. ]
- Or Krummhorn; in organs corrupted into 'Cremona.'
- Ch. Ballard published in 1685 a first book of 'Pièces de trompettes et tlmballes à 2, 3, et 4 parties.' This curious collection is not mentioned in any of the biographies, although the catalogue in Thuinan's study on the Philidors contains the 'Suite de Danses' (1699) and the 'Pièces a deux basses de viole, basse de violon et basson' (1700).
- He was at first assistant to François Fossard, a violinist, whom he soon replaced altogether.
- Among his printed works may be specified 'Premier livre de pièces pour la flûte traversière, flûte à bec, violons et hautbois' (Paris 1712), oblong 4to. There is also a MS. Te Deum for 4 voices in the Conservatoire.
- For Campra, see the Appendix to this Dictionary.