FRANCOIS FRANCOEUR (1698 - 1787)
The composer François Rebel, the eldest son of Jean-Féry Rebel, was born in Paris on 19 June 1701. A gifted violinist, he entered the Paris Opéra orchestra in 1714. In 1723 he travelled to Vienna and Prague in the retinue of General Bonneval with his friend François Francœur to attend the coronation of Emperor Charles VI as King of Bohemia. They were present at the performance of Johann Joseph Fux’s opera Costanza e Fortezza (Patience and Fortitude) which was performed for this occasion in the Prague castle in a most sumptuous and spectacular manner.
François Francœur, the son of Joseph Francœur, bass violinist and member of the 24 Violons du Roi (the elite string orchestra of Versailles), was born in Paris on 21 September 1698. At the age of twelve he joined the Paris Opéra orchestra. There he met François Rebel, his junior of three years, when the latter joined the orchestra in 1714. In 1721 he published his first book of sonatas for the violin. Their trip to Vienna and Prague sealed the friendship of the two composers whose professional lives were indissolubly linked for the next 49 years. In 1726, Rebel and Francœur composed together
their first tragédie en musique, Pyrame et Thisbé. Because they were so young, this work became known as “L’Opéra des enfants” (The Children’s Opera). In 1727 Francœur became compositeur de la chambre du roi. The following year, Rebel and Francœur produced their second tragédie en musique at the Paris Opéra, Tarsis et Zélie. In 1729 Francœur was admitted to the royal military orders of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazare of Jerusalem, an honour rarely ever bestowed on a musician. In 1730 he became a member
of the 24 Violons du Roi alongside his father and his brother. Around that time he published his second book of sonatas for the violin.
The 1730s were difficult years for Rebel and Francœur. In December 1730 Francœur’s reputation was tainted by an affair of “stolen” jewels given by a rich admirer to Mlle Pélissier, one of the great divas of the Paris Opéra. He also married a daughter of the celebrated actress, Adrienne Lecouvreur, which ended in bitter legal wrangling in 1746. In 1733 Rebel married the daughter of the celebrated dancer Françoise Prévost, but she died prematurely. In 1735 Rebel and Francœur’s third tragédie en musique, Scanderberg, had little success, and their Ballet de la Paix of 1738 was also poorly received. In December 1734, however, Rebel was appointed head of the Concert Spirituel and in 1739 Francœur was appointed Maître de Musique at the Paris Opéra.
Rebel and Francœur were appointed inspecteurs musicaux (musical directors) of the Paris Opéra from 1743 to 1753. On 27 February 1744, Francœur became surintendant of the royal chamber music, succeeding Collin de Blamont. On 14 November 1744 Rebel and Francœur celebrated the return to Paris of King Louis XV, who had fallen gravely ill in August in Metz, with two divertissements, Le Retour du Roi and Les Augustales. The following year, Rebel and Francœur composed Zélindor, Roi des Sylphes, and Le Trophée, followed by several more works for Versailles, La Félicité, Ismène, and Le Prince de Noisy.
In 1753 Francœur retired from the Opéra with a pension, and in 1756 freed himself of the court responsibilities of surintendant of the royal chamber music to accept, with Rebel, the joint directorship of the Opéra for a period of thirty years starting on 1 April 1757. Rebel and Francœur faced a great number of difficulties: a large deficit, lack of discipline, the controversy between partisans of Italian operas and partisans of French opera known as the Querelle des Bouffons, and as a final blow, the destruction of the Opéra by fire on 6 April 1763. They were forced to resign on 1 April 1767. King Louis XV ennobled Rebel, however, in 1760 and Francœur in May 1764. In 1772 the King asked Rebel to return to the Opéra as Administrateur général, a post he relinquished a few months before his death on 7 November 1775.
The death of Rebel was a severe blow to Francœur. He retired in 1776, selling all his charges including that of surintendant of the royal chamber music, and died at the age of 89 on 5 August 1787.