Boieldieu, François Adrien


A voluminous and highly talented French operatic composer. He was born at Rouen, his father being secretary there, to the archbishop. On account of domestic troubles between his parents, which finally resulted in divorce, Boieldieu while still a small boy, went to live with Broche, the organist of the cathedral at Rouen, an excellent musician, who so far as is known was his only teacher. At the age of eighteen, the boy composed a small opera, La Fille Coupable, for which his father had written the libretto. This being successful, was followed two years later by a second, Rosalie and Myrza, and at this time, he also wrote some beautiful ballads and chansons. Encouraged by these attempts, Boieldieu went to Paris, where he soon became acquainted with the foremost musicians, Mehul and Cherubini among the number. He brought out, in 1776, a one-act comic opera, Les deux Lettres; in 1797, a second, La Famille Suisse and, in 98, Zoraime et Zulnare. These years were all highly successful and Boieldieu's reputation as a composer was firmly established, in 1800, by, The Calif of Bagdad, the last and best work of the first period of his musical career. At this time, he also wrote some piano and chamber-music, and, in 1800, was appointed professor of the piano at the Paris Conservatory. It is said, but is also denied, that after writing The Calif of Bagdad, Boieldieu took a thorough course in counterpoint, and harmony under Cherubini. At any rate, his next opera, Ma tante Aurore, was not produced until three years later, and showed an immense amount of progress and improvement.

In 1803, suddenly and supposedly on account of domestic difficulties with his wife, who was a dancer, and with whom he was not happy, Boieldieu left Paris for Russia. Here he was appointed conductor of the Imperial Opera. His stay in Russia may be considered his second musical period and the works of this time, although numerous, added nothing to his fame. Only three of these were considered worth being produced in Paris. They were Rien de Trop, La Jeune Femme colere and Les voitures versees. When Boieldieu returned to Paris, in 1811, he found very little competition, Dalayrac being dead and Mehul and Cherubini both having retired. His first work of this third period was Jean de Paris, produced in 1812, one of his most beautiful operas and a brilliant success. After this for nearly fourteen years, he was engaged largely in collaboration with Cherubini, Isouard and Catel, producing only two works entirely alone. These were Le Nouveau Seigneur de village and Le petit Chaperon rouge. In 1817 he succeeded Mehul as professor of composition at the Conservatory of Paris, and, in 1825, he produced his masterpiece La Dame Blanche. Grove says: "The Dame Blanche is the finest work of Boieldieu, and Boieldieu the greatest master of the French school of comic opera." The plot of this opera is a combination of Scott's novels, The Monastery and Guy Mannering. In 1829, Boieldieu produced his last opera, Les Deux Nuits, which, principally on account of the poor libretto, was a failure. This failure, together with failing health due to lung trouble, caused Boieldieu to retire to southern France. His last days were also saddened by financial difficulties, his pensions both being stopped in 1830. One of them was, however, renewed shortly before his death, and he was tenderly cared for by his second wife who had been a singer, and by whom he had a son, Adrien Louis Victor, who was a more than fair musician. Boieldieu died at Jarcy, his country seat, in 1834.

His work abounds in beautiful melodies and although he had very little training, his style, while simple, was finished and perfect. With the possible exception of Auber, he was the greatest composer in the field of comic opera. Among his distinguished pupils were Fetis, Zimmermann and Adam.