Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/716

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
704
PHILIDOR.
 

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.