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Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny

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Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny ((1729-10-17)17 October 1729 – 14 January 1817(1817-01-14)) was a French composer and a member of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts (1813).

He is considered alongside Jules Massenet in this genre.

Paul Dukas is quoted as saying, "Of all the composers of our country, he may be the first who had the gift of true, human emotion, of communicative expression and of fair feeling".


Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny was born at Fauquembergues, near Saint-Omer, in the former Artois region of France (now Pas-de-Calais), four months before the marriage of his parents, Marie-Antoinette Dufresne and Nicolas Monsigny.

He was educated at the Collége des Jésuites Wallons in Saint-Omer. It was here that he first discovered his aptitude for music.

As the eldest child, in 1749, a few months after his father's death, he left for Paris with only a few coins in his pocket, a violin and a recommendation letter, in an attempt to further his musical career and provide for his siblings. He entered into the service of a M. de Saint-Julien, in the bureau of the Comptabilité du Clergé de France. In 1752, after watching a performance of La serva padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi at the Paris Opera, he decided upon his true vocation. He then became Gianotti's student, and a counter-bassist at the Paris Opéra.

Secretly, with a text by Laribardière, he wrote Les aveux indiscrets, his first comical opera, which premiered at the theater of the Foire St Germain in February 1759. This work was well received, and that encouraged him to compose a second opera, in two acts, on a libretto by Pierre-René Lemmonier. Le maître en droit, the following year, received the same response. Michel-Jean Sedaine, a well-liked librettist, proposed to Monsigny to collaborate with him, following Le cadi dupé's success. Their common production was excellent: On ne s'avise jamais de tout, Le roi et le fermier and Rose et Colas. On 15 April 1766, at the Académie royale de Musique, his epic ballet in three acts Aline, reine de Golconde was not as successful as expected. The critics were harsher two years later, with L'île sonnante. The music, it is true, preserves its usual grace of Monsigny's touch. However, Charles Collé's booklet happened to be unadapted and justified its little success.

It is during this same year of 1768 that the composer bought the charge of Head Waiter at the service of the Louis Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. This patronal environment favored a little more his inspiration. Michel-Jean Sedaine submitted his libretto, Le déserteur, for which he composed his most successful score. Yet Le faucon, created in 1771 was a failure. On 17 August 1775, La belle Arsène caused controversy among critics.

In 1777, following the success of Félix, ou L'enfant trouvé, Monsigny stopped composing. At the beginning of 1784, he married Amélie de Villemagne, with whom he lived peacefully until 1789. The French Revolution and The Terror deprived them of all their material existence. The musician and his family sank into deep misery and oblivion for a few years. Hearing of the composer's state of poverty, the members of the Opéra-Comique gave him a pension of 2400 pounds, in order to prove their gratitude to one of the founders of their theater.

The years of adversity

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