Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/137

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LESUEUR.
125
 

et méthodique pour la fête de Noel' (1787). Lesueur's rejoinder was another pamphlet, 'Exposé d'une musique une, imitative et particulière a chaque solemnité' (Paris, Hérissant, 1787), in which he gives a detailed sketch of an appropriate musical service for Christmas, and states expressly that his aim was to make sacred music 'dramatic and descriptive.' Meantime the chapter, finding that his projects had involved them in heavy expense, curtailed the orchestra, while at the same time strong pressure was put upon him by the Archbishop to take orders. He willingly assumed the title of Abbé, but declined the priesthood, especially as he was composing an opera, 'Telémaque,' which he was anxious to produce. Finding his reduced orchestra inadequate for his masses he resigned, upon which an infamous libel was issued, accusing him, the most upright of men, of having been dismissed for fraud. Completely worn out, he retired in the autumn of 1788 to the country house of a friend, and here he passed nearly four years of repose and happiness. On the death of his friend in 1792 he returned to Paris invigorated and refreshed in mind, and composed a series of 3-act operas—'La Caverne' (Feb. 15, 1793), 'Paul et Virginie' (Jan. 13, 1794), and 'Télémaque' (May 11, 1796), all produced at the Feydeau. The brilliant success of 'La Caverne' procured his appointment as professor in the 'École de la Garde Nationale' (Nov. 21, 1793), and he was also nominated one of the inspectors of instruction at the Conservatoire from its foundation in 1795. In this capacity he took part with Méhul, Gossec, Catel, and Langlé, in drawing up the 'Principes élémentaires de musique' and the 'Solféges du Conservatoire.' He was then looking forward to the production of two operas which had been accepted by the Académie; and when these were set aside in favour of Catel's 'Semiramis' his indignation knew no bounds, and he vehemently attacked not only his colleague, but the director of the Conservatoire, Catel's avowed patron. His pamphlet, 'Projet d'un plan général de l'instruction musicale en France' (Paris, an IX, anonymous), raised a storm, and Lesueur received his dismissal from the Conservatoire on Sept. 23, 1802. Having a family to support, the loss of his salary crippled him severely, and he was only saved from utter indigence by his appointment in March 1804 as maîre de chapelle to the First Consul, on the recommendation of Paisiello, who retired on account of his health. As the occupant of the post most coveted by musicians in France, Lesueur had no difficulty in securing the representation of 'Ossian, ou les Bardes' (5 acts, July 10, 1804). The piece inaugurated the new title of the theatre as 'Académie Imperiale.' Its success was extraordinary, and the Emperor, an ardent admirer of Celtic poems, rewarded the composer with the Legion of Honour, and presented him with a gold snuff-box inscribed 'L'Empereur des Français à l'auteur des Bardes,' intended also as an acknowledgement for a Te Deum and a mass performed at Notre Dame on the occasion of his coronation (Dec. 2, 1804). During the next five years Lesueur undertook no work of greater importance than a share in Persuis's intermede 'L'lnauguration du Temple de la Victoire' (Jan. 2, 1807), and in the same composer's 3-act opera 'Le Triomphe de Trajan' (Oct. 23, 1807), containing the well-known 'marche solennelle'; but on March 21, 1809, he produced 'La Mort d'Adam et son Apotheose' in 3 acts—the original cause of his quarrel with the management of the Académie and the Conservatoire. The scenery and decorations of the new opera excited the greatest admiration; when complimented on his work, Degotti the scene-painter replied quite seriously, 'Yes, it certainly is the most beautiful paradise you ever saw in your life, or ever will see.'

In 1813 Lesueur succeeded Grétry at the Institut; and after the Restoration became, in spite of his long veneration for Napoleon, surintendant and composer of the chapel of Louis XVIII. On January 1, 1818, he was appointed professor of composition at the Conservatoire, a post which he retained till his death. His lectures were largely attended, and very interesting from the brilliant remarks with which he interspersed them. Of his pupils no less than 12 gained the 'prix de Rome'—namely, Bourgeois, Ermel, Paris, Guiraud, Hector Berlioz, Eugène Prévost, Ambroise Thomas (whom he called his 'note sensible,' or leading note, on account of his extreme nervousness), Elwart, Ernest Boulanger, Besozzi, Xavier Boisselot (who married one of his three daughters), and, last but not least, Gounod. Lesueur also wrote 'Notice sur la Mélopée, la Rhythmopée et les grands caracteres de la musique ancienne,' published with Gail's French translation of Anacreon (Paris, 1793). Ancient Greek music was a favourite subject with him, and he would with perfect seriousness expound how one mode tended to licence, and another to virtue; unfortunately however some wag in the class would occasionally mislead his ear by inverting the order of succession in the chords, and thus betray him into taking the licentious for the virtuous mode, and vice versa.[1]

Lesueur died in Paris on Oct. 6, 1837, at a patriarchal age, and in universal respect; even Berlioz loved and honoured him to the last (see chapters vi. and xx. of his Mémoires). He left 3 operas which had never been performed, 'Tyrtée,' 3 acts, composed in 1794; 'Artaxerce,' 3 acts, accepted by the Opéra in 1801; and 'Alexandre à Babylone,' of which the score has been engraved, and considerable portions performed at the Conservatoire concerts. Of his numerous oratorios, masses, motets, etc., the following have been published:—'L'Oratorio ou Messe de Noël'; 3 messes solennelles; a low mass with 'Domine Salvum'; 3 'Oratorios pour la couronnement des princes souverains'; 3 Te Deums; 2 'Oratorios de la Passion'; 2 'Domine Salvum'; 1 Stabat; the oratorios 'Debora,'

  1. This is said to have been a favourite amusement with Gounod as a boy.