Grétry now showed his versatility by composing no less than 3 operas, all produced in 1770—'Le Sylvain,' of which not even the over-rated duet 'Dans le sein d'un père' survives; 'Les deux Avares,' which contains a good comic duet, a march, and a Janissaries' chorus, still heard with pleasure; and 'L'Amitié à l'épreuve,' an indifferent comedy in two acts, reduced to one in 1775 by Favart, without improving either piece or music. 'Zémire et Azor' (Dec. 16, 1771) at once placed Grétry in the rank of creative artists. His fertility in ideas was marvellous, and he regularly supplied both the Comédie Italienne and the Théâtre Favart, where he produced successively 'L'Ami de la maison,' 3 acts (Fontainebleau Oct. 1771, and Paris March 14, 1772); 'Le Magnifique,' 3 acts (1773), the overture of which contains the air 'Vive Henri IV' most effectively combined with another subject; 'La Rosière de Salency' in 4 acts, afterwards reduced to 3 (1774), which contains a remarkable duet between two jealous young women, and the pretty melody 'Ma barque légère,' so well arranged by Dussek for the piano; 'La fausse Magie,' 2 acts, with the syllabic duet between the two old men, an excellent piece; 'Les Manages Samnites,' a work which he rewrote several times but which never became popular, though the march supplied Mozart with a theme for Variations; 'Matroco,' a burlesque in 4 acts composed for the court-theatre at Fontainebleau (1777) and unsuccessfully performed in Paris (1778) against the wish of Grétry; 'Le Jugement de Midas,' 3 acts (1778), in which he satirised French music of the old style, and especially the manner in which it was rendered by the singers of the Académie; 'L'Amant jaloux,' 3 acts (1778)—in the 2nd act an exquisite serenade; 'Les Evénements imprévus' (1779), in 3 acts, containing 2 airs once popular, now forgotten; 'Aucassin et Nicolette,' 3 acts (1780), in which he endeavoured unsuccessfully to imitate ancient music; 'Thalie au Nouveau Théâtre,' a prologue for the inauguration of the Salle Favart (1783); 'Théodore et Paulin,' lyric comedy in 3 acts, which failed at first, and was afterwards given in 2 acts under the title of 'L'Epreuve villageoise' with marked and well-merited success; 'Richard Cœur de Lion,' 3 acts (Oct. 21, 1784), the finest of all his works, containing the air, 'O Richard, ô mon roi, l'univers t'abandonne,' which became of historic importance at Versailles, Oct. 1, 1789; and 'fièvre brulante,' on which Beethoven wrote variations. 'Les Méprises par ressemblance,' opera in 3 acts (1786) now justly forgotten; 'Le Comte d' Albert,' 2 acts (1787), the success of which was secured by Mme. Dugazon; 'La Suite du Comte d'Albert,' 1 act (1787); 'Le Prisonnier Anglais,' 3 acts (1787), revived in 1793 as 'Clarice et Belton,' without making a more favourable impression; 'Le Rival confident,' opera in 2 acts, which failed in spite of a pleasing arietta and a graceful rondo; 'Raoul Barbe-Bleue,' 3 acts (1789), a weak production quickly forgotten; 'Pierre le Grand,' 3 acts (1790), in which the search after local colouring is somewhat too apparent; 'Guillaume Tell,' in 3 acts (1791), containing a round and a quartet, long favourites;
to Rome. Leaving his native city in March 1759, he travelled on foot, with a smuggler for his companion. On his arrival at Rome he was received into the 'Collège de Liége,' founded by a Liégeois named Darcis for the benefit of his townsmen, who were permitted to reside there for five years while completing their specific studies. His master for counterpoint and composition was Casali, who dismissed him as hopelessly ignorant. Grétry never did understand the science of harmony; his mission was to enforce the expression of words by melody, and to compose operas. During his stay in Rome he composed a 'De profundis' and some motets which have not been published, and an intermezzo called 'Le Vendemmianti,' [App. p.658 "Vendemiatrice"] for the Aliberti theatre. Although the work of a foreigner this operetta was successful, and might have introduced him to more important theatres; but Grétry having read the score of Monsigny's 'Rose et Colas' came to the conclusion that French opéra-comique was his vocation. To get to Paris now became his one idea. He left Rome Jan. 1, 1767, and having reached Geneva asked Voltaire to write him a good libretto for an opera-comique, a task which Voltaire was incapable of performing and had the tact to decline. At Geneva he supported himself for a year by teaching singing; and produced 'Isabelle et Gertrude,' a one-act opera by Favart on a subject suggested by Voltaire, and previously set to music by Blaise. At length, by the advice of the owner of Ferney himself, Grétry went to Paris, where he obtained from an amateur the libretto of 'Les Manages Samnites' in three acts. This work was not performed at that time, but its public rehearsals procured him the patronage of Count de Creutz the Swedish Ambassador, and as a consequence of that, a two-act libretto by Marmontel, 'Le Huron,' successfully performed Aug. 20, 1768. This opera was followed by 'Lucile' (1769), which contains the duet [App. p.658 "quartet"] 'Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa famille,' which became so popular and played so singular a part on more than one historical occasion; and by 'Le Tableau parlant,' an original and extremely comic piece, and one of Grétry's very best. What life and spirit there are in this refined jesting! How natural and charming are the melodies, with their skilfully varied, but always animated rhythm! How prettily does Isabelle make fun of old Cassandre and his antiquated love-making! How appropriate, and how thoroughly in keeping is the action of each individual on the stage! How pointed and dramatic the duet between Pierrot and Columbine! Grimm was right in proclaiming 'Le Tableau parlant' a real masterpiece.
- These details are taken from Grétry's 'Mémoires.'
- An autograph 'Confiteor' for four voices and orchestra is in the library of the Paris Conservatoire.
- Performed in Paris in 1765. Blaise's ariettes are printed in the 'Théâtre de M. Favart' (vol ix).
- See the article Où peut on être mieux.