Fetis, François Joseph


Belgian writer, musical theorist and composer, who is chiefly known for his "Biographie des Musiciens," a work, which has many faults and shortcomings, but which, in spite of these is one of the greatest monuments to the achievements of musical genius ever reared.

Fetis was born in Mons, Belgium, and studied at the Paris Conservatory under Boieldieu, Pradher and other teachers, and gained several prizes from 1803 to 1807. After his graduation from that institute, he was organist at Donai and later professor of counterpoint at the Paris Conservatory, librarian of the same institution in 1827 and director of the Brussels Conservatory and musical director to the King of the Belgians in 1833. His father, the chapelmaster and organist of the Mons Cathedral, was his first teacher, and young Fetis proved an exceptionally brilliant and apt pupil. At seven he wrote violin duets and when only nine composed a concerto for violin and acted as organist. Fetis' first theoretical work was a study of the system and history of notation of Guido d'Arezzo. He founded his journal, La Revue Musicale in 1827 and remained its editor until 1832. He also conducted the concerts of the Academy in Paris. In 1806, Fetis began to collect materials   for his great biographical work. He is not always reliable and was careless in compiling and editing the biographies of British composers, but most complete and accurate regarding the composers of his own country, and those of France and of Germany. The work is, however, a most valuable and monumental work of reference, in spite of its errors, is constantly referred to and contains information impossible to obtain from any other source. Fetis was a composer of considerable ability, but his work in this line was largely overshadowed by his biographical work. He composed seven operas, among them L'Amant et le Mari; Marie Stuart en ficosse; and Le Vieille and Le Mannequin de Bergamo, all given at the Opera Comique with a fair degree of success, but all antiquated and not at all brilliant. He also wrote overtures; sextets; sonnets; windoctets; t caprices; and much sacred music, including masses, motets; and a requiem; which last was considered his greatest composition, and was composed in 1850 for the funeral of the Queen of Belgium. Fetis was a learned student of counterpoint and a champion of the old Italian style. He was noted for his apparently tireless energy, and often worked sixteen and eighteen hours a day. His Revue Musicale, which he founded in 1827, was the foundation of the musical press of France. After his death his great library was purchased by the Belgian government and is now in the Brussels Conservatory.

The didactic and historical works of Fetis include the famous Biographic Universelle, already mentioned, which was originally published in eight volumes at Brussels in 1835 to 1844. A second edition was brought out in Paris in 1862, and a supplement in two volumes was published by Pougin, in Paris, in 1878 to 1880, several years after the death of Fetis. He also wrote a manual for composers; a biography of Haydn; an account of the career of Antoine Stradivari, the great violin-maker, with original researches on bowed instruments, and a biography of Beethoven. His treatise on counterpoint and fugue is undoubtedly the best and most exhaustive text-book on these subjects that exists. His work, Music Explained, was translated into English from the French for the Boston Academy of Music. He left many works and treatises unfinished and unpublished and edited numerous methods.. Fetis left a son, Edouard Louis François, professor and composer at Brussels and art critic and editor of La Revue Musicale from 1833 to 1835, who has helped to perpetuate his father's name. He wrote Les Musiciens Beiges in two parts.