Sunday, 15 March 2009

Philidor The Chess Player & Composer - Carmen Saeculare Overtures

François-André Danican Philidor

Chess Player & Composer

François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795) came from an oustanding musical family, and as a boy was a chorister in the Chapelle Royal at Versailles. Whilst developing his career in music, Philidor became a formidable chess player (regarded as the best chess player of his age) playing regularly in the 1740s at the Café de la Régence against such greats as Voltaire, Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin (quote). He was known for his astounding ability to play blindfold chess.

From around 1750 to 1770, Philidor was regarded as a leading opera composer in France. However, once he felt that he was being surpassed by other composers he again devoted his time to chess.

Philidor’s Carmen Sæculare Overtures CD (Amazon)

In 1788, when Philidor returned again to England, he became acquainted with the London intellectual Giuseppe Baretti. Through a collaboration between Philidor and Baretti the Carmen Sæculare, an oratorio, set to hymns by the poet Horace was produced. Note Horace was a leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus. Baretti chose the Latin texts for the Carmen Sæculare and sought someone who was ‘fertile in ideas and expedients and able to temper alternately the solemnity of Church-music with the brilliancy of the theatrical’. Philidor’s outstanding musical ability and Mozartean-Haydnesque high classical style, was ideal for the task.

Philidor became stranded in England when the French Revolution (17891799) occurred during his absence. He was placed on the banned list by the Revolutionary Government because of his social connections. He died in London (1795) and was buried in St James, Piccadilly.