Félicien-César David (13 April 1810 – 29 August 1876) was a French composer.
Félicien David was born in Cadenet, and began to study music at the age of five under his father, whose death when the boy was six left him an impoverished orphan. His good voice enabled him to study as a choirboy at the Church of Saint-Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence, which he left at the age of 15 with a sound knowledge of music, and a scholarship which enabled him to study literature at a Jesuit college. However, after three years, he abandoned these studies to pursue a musical career.
He first obtained a position in the orchestra of the theatre at Aix. In 1829, he became maître de chapelle at Saint-Sauveur, but realised that to complete his musical education he needed to study at Paris. An allowance of 50 francs per month from a rich uncle made this possible.
In Paris in 1830 he convinced Luigi Cherubini, the director of the Conservatoire, to enroll him as a pupil: despite his reservations, Cherubini recognised the talent shown by David's choral setting of Beatus vir . Despite the sudden withdrawal of his uncle's subsidy, David's studies, with Fétis and others, continued successfully.
On leaving the Conservatoire, David was caught up in the Saint-Simonian movement, for which he became a great enthusiast. The Saint-Simonians held music to be an important art, and David wrote much music for them, including a number of hymns. After the suppression of the movement in 1832, David joined with a number of adepts who visited the Middle East. This also proved a source of strong inspiration, leading eventually to his greatest success, the symphonic ode Le désert of 1844.
Returning to Paris in 1833, he wrote a number of romances , and instrumental music including three symphonies (in F major, E♭ major and C minor, composed in 1837, 1838 and 1849); by 1838/39 he was successful enough to be able to arrange public performances of his works. With Le Désert he was acknowledged by the public and the critics as a significant force. The Revue et gazette musicale announced, the morning after its premiere, "A great composer has been born amongst us". To relieve his substantial debts, however, the composer sold the rights to his masterpiece for a relatively small sum.
David wrote a number of operas, of which the most notable are Christophe Colomb (1847), La perle du Brésil (1851), Herculanum (1859), and Lalla-Roukh (1862). Amongst his oratorios are Moïse au Sinaï ('Moses on Sinai') (1846), and Eden (1848).
David became a member of the Légion d'honneur in 1862 and was given a civil pension. On the death of Berlioz in 1869, he took his place in the Institut de France. He died in Le Pecq (now Saint-Germain-en-Laye) in the département Yvelines, close to Paris, in 1876.
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Le désert is an "ode-symphonie" in three parts by the French composer Félicien David with words by fellow Saint-Simonien Auguste Colin, written after the composer’s stay in Egypt and the Holy Land.
Lalla-Roukh is an opéra comique in two acts composed by Félicien David. The libretto by Michel Carré and Hippolyte Lucas was based on Thomas Moore's 1817 poem Lalla Rookh. It was first performed on 12 May 1862 by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart in Paris. Set in Kashmir and Samarkand, the opera recounts the love story between Nourreddin, the King of Samarkand, and the Mughal princess Lalla-Roukh. Her name means "Tulip-cheeked", a frequent term of endearment in Persian poetry.
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