Gossec, François Joseph


Belgian composer; born at Vergnies. He was a choir-boy in a cathedral at Antwerp up to 1749, after which he studied the violin and composition. In 1751 he went to Paris and became acquainted with Rameau, who assisted him in obtaining the directorship of a private orchestra. While conducting a performance of Rameau's works, Gossec was impressed with the need of a greater development in French orchestral music. He set to work, and in 1754 the first of his symphonies was produced, antedating Haydn's first by five years. In the course of a few years, the public, somewhat indifferent at first to this new instrumental form, began to appreciate its value and to recognize its superiority to the overtures of Lully and Rameau. Gossec's string quartets, produced in 1759, and his best known work, The Requiem, 1760, met with prompt favor, and the same year he produced a novel work, Messe . des Morts, a part of which was written for two orchestras, one of windinstruments concealed, which carried the melody, accompanied by the visible orchestra of strings, played very softly in the higher octaves. The same effect is indicated in his oratorio, La Nativite, by dividing the choir into two parts, one representing an angels' chorus. In 1762 he became director of the orchestra of Prince Conti at Chantilly, where he had still more time to compose, and in 1764 he brought out an opera, Le Faux Lord, with indifferent success. Les Pecheurs was an entire success, and was followed by about fifteen more, produced at intervals up to 1803. His dramatic works, though of less musical import than his instrumental, indicate his standing at that time. In 1770 he founded the Concert des Amateurs, said to be the first step toward a high standard of orchestral playing in France; and reorganized the Concerts Spirituelsin 1773, of which he was conductor for a time. From 1780 to 1782 he was assistant conductor at the Academie de Musique, and in 1784 founded the ficole Royale de Chant, later developed into the conservatory, of which he was appointed an inspector on its organization in ,1795, and also professor of composition, a post which he held till his eightieth year. He was made a member of the Institut in 1795, and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1812. During the Revolution he was band-conductor of the National Guard and composed considerable music for the patriotic festivals. Beside the works already mentioned, he composed church music, including masses with orchestra, motets, and a Te Deum; two oratorios, L'Arche d'Alliance, and Saul; overtures; concert symphony for eleven instruments; twenty-six symphonies for full orchestra; three for wind-instruments; choruses to Racine's Athalie and Rochefort's Electre; eighteen string quartets; trios; and other chamber-music. He died at Passy, near Paris, aged ninetyfive.