Lesueur, Jean François


Self-taught musician and composer, who had much influence on the music of his time, but whose works are now entirely forgotten. He was a grandnephew of the distinguished painter, Eustache Lesueur, and was born in the village of Drucat-Plessiel, near Abbeville, where as a boy, he was a chorister. At fourteen he entered the college at Amiens, remaining only two years. He was appointed musicmaster at the Cathedral of Seez, afterwards under-master at the Church of the Innocents in Paris. While there he received some little instruction in harmony from the Abbe Roze. In 1781 he became  musicmaster at the Cathedral of Dijon, two years later holding a similar position at Mans, soon leaving to become choir-director at Tours. He returned to Paris in 1784, and two years later became choirmaster of Notre Dame. Here he introduced a full orchestra as an accompaniment to the church-music, which was a decided innovation, and the church was- packed with people who came to hear his motets. He was severely criticized for this change and received many anonymous pamphlets, supposedly from conservative ecclesiastical quarters, to which he replied with two essays, giving an explanation of his motives. His  position at Notre Dame continuing to be the source of troublesome quarrels he retired, in 1788, to the country-seat of M. Bochard de Champagny, where he devoted four years to composition.

He had been advised by Sacchini, one of the foremost musicians of the French School, to write for the stage, and upon the death of his benefactor, he returned to Paris. Shortly after appeared a series of three-act operas, La Caverne, Paul et Virginie, and Telemaque, all produced at the Theatre Feydeau. These successes procured for him a professorship at the ficole de la Garde Nationale, and upon the opening of the Conservatory, in 1795, he became an inspector of instruction. ' He co-operated with Mehul, Gossec, Catel, and Langle, in drawing up the Principes elementaires de musique and the Solfeges in the school. In 1802 a quarrel with the head of the Conservatory over the acceptance of two of his operas led to the loss of his position. Two years later, through the recommendation of Paisiello, he obtained the highest musical honor in France, that of chapelmaster to Napoleon. Now the rejected operas, Ossian, ou les Bardes, and La Morte d'Adam, were produced, and the success of the former was great, Napoleon presenting him of the French to the author of Les Bardes). In 1813 he succeeded Gretry at the Institut de France, and the next year, after the Restoration, he was made superintendent and composer to the Royal Chapel for Louis XVIII., which position he held until the Revolution of 1830. In 1818 he was appointed professor of composition at the Conservatory, where he taught until his death. He died in Paris at an advanced age and universally respected and admired. He was a brilliant teacher, twelve of his pupils winning the Prize of Rome. Among his pupils were Hector Berlioz, who carried on his marvelous harmonic skill; Gounod shows the influence of his grand simplicity, and Ambroise Thomas, who composed a cantata for the unveiling of Lesueur's statue at Abbeville. Aside from his operas, Lesueur's music was mostly sacred, being masses and motets, the oratorios, Deborah, Rachael, Ruth and Naomi; three Te Deums, and much besides. He composed the Emperor's Coronation March.