Auber, Daniel François Esprit


Celebrated French dramatic composer and the chief representative of comic opera. He was born in Caen, Normandy, while his parents were on a journey to that city, their home being in Paris. Although his father intended him for a mercantile career, the family was artistic, rather than commercial, Auber's grandfather being painter to the King, while his father, who was master of the King's hunt, was a singer, an amateur composer, a violinist and an art dealer in Paris. With this heredity, it is not strange that Auber absolutely refused to follow the business life planned for him and resolutely devoted himself to music. He first studied the piano, but at the age of eleven his bent for composition began to develop, and he wrote some romances and ballads. A few years later he was sent to England to go into business, but while there devoted himself to producing vocal compositions, and soon returned to Paris to give all of his time to music. About this time, he became a friend of Lamarre, a violoncellist of ability, and was persuaded by him to write a number of concertos, for that instrument. These came out under Lamarre's name, but the real author soon became known. Auber at this time also wrote a violin concerto which was very successful. His first dramatic work was a new setting of an old comic opera, Julie. This was produced at Pans, in 1812, by a society of amateurs. Cherubini, who happened to be among the audience, recognized Auber's talent and took him for a pupil in composition and to this great master he owed much of his future success. Auber's talent now developed very rapidly. The same year, 812, he produced another opera, Jean de Couvm, which was privately performed and was much applauded, and a mass from which the prayer in Masaniello is taken. These were followed, in 1813, by Le Sejour Militaire, his first opera to be publicly performed. This was unsuccessful and its author was so discouraged, that six years elapsed before the production of Le Testament le Billet Doux, which was also not a success. The next year, however, brought La Bergere Chatelaine, with which his fame began to increase and there followed a series of operas, for the most of which his friend, Scribe, wrote the librettos. These were all very successful, among them being La Neige; Leicester; Le Concert a la Cour; Leocadie; and Le Magon, which established Auber's position as a comic opera composer. In 1828, Auber produced his first grand opera, La Muette di Portici, known in England as Masaniello. This work brought him to the height of his fame and is classed as one of the three productions that worked a revolution in Grand Opera, the other two being Rossini's William Tell and Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. It is also said to be a historical fact that this opera produced the real revolution in 1830, which resulted in the separation of Holland and Belgium. From this time until his death, Auber composed most industriously, producing in all, nearly fifty operas. Some of his best work was done after he was sixty and his last opera, Reves d'Amour, was written at the age of eighty-five. Beside those already mentioned some of his best known operas are Le Domino Noir; Les Diamants de la Couronne; Le Cheval de Bronze; La Part du Diable; Manon Lescaut; and Fra Diavolo. In 1842, Auber was made director of the Conservatory of Paris, to succeed Cherubini and, in 1857, Napoleon III. appointed him conductor of the Imperial Chapel. He was a Knight of the Legion of Honor and a member of the Academy of Fine Arts. Auber was a devoted Parisian and never left the city during the latter part of his life. His death occurred during the scenes of the Commune of 1871. He was the chief and last great master of comic opera and his work was distinctively French in character, being very smooth and melodious and combining grace and ease.