Felicien David - Encyclopedia Britannica 1911




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FELICIEN DAVID (1810-1876), French composer, was born on the 13th of April 181o at Cadenet, in the department of Vaucluse. As a child he showed unusual musical precocity, and being early left an orphan he was admitted into the choir of Saint Sauveur at Aix. He was for a time employed in an attorney's office, but quitted his service to become chef d'orchestre in the theatre at Aix, and chapel-master at Saint Sauveur. Then he went to Paris, being provided with £loo a year by a rich uncle. After having studied for a while at the Paris Conservatoire, he joined the sect of Saint Simonians, and in 1833 travelled in the East in order to preach the new doctrine. After three years' absence, during which Constantinople and Smyrna were visited and some time was spent in Egypt, he returned to France and published a collection of Oriental Melodies. For several years he worked in retirement, and wrote two symphonies, some chamber music and songs. On the 8th of December 1844 he suddenly leapt into fame through the extraordinary success obtained by his symphonic ode Le Desert, which was produced at the Conservatoire. In this work David had struck out a new line. He had attempted in simple strains to evoke the majestic stillness of the desert. Notwithstanding its title of "symphonic ode," Le Desert has little in common with the symphonic style. What distinguishes it is a certain naïveté of expression and an effective oriental colouring. In this last respect David may be looked upon as the precursor of a whole army of composers. His succeeding works, Moise au Sinai (1846), Christophe Colomb (1847), L'Eden (1848), scarcely bore out the promise shown in Le Desert, although the second of these compositions was successful at the time of its production. David now turned his attention to the theatre, and produced the following operas in succession: La Perle du Bresil (1851), Herculanum (1859), Lalla-Roukh (1862), Le Saphir (1865). Of these, Lalla-Roukh is the one which has obtained the greatest success. In 1868 he gained the award of the French Institute for the biennial prize given by the emperor; and in 1869 he was made librarian at the Conservatoire instead of Berlioz, whom subsequently he succeeded as a member of the Institute. He died at Saint-Germain-en-Laye on the 2 9th of August 1876. If David can scarcely be placed in the first rank of French composers, he nevertheless deserves the consideration due to a sincere artist, who was undoubtedly inspired by lofty ideals. At a time when the works of Berlioz were still unappreciated by the majority of people, David succeeded in making the public take interest in music of a picturesque and descriptive kind. Thus he may be considered as one of the pioneers of modern French musical art.

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