Félicien David

Last updated
Woodburytype of Felicien David Felicien-Cesar David.jpg
Woodburytype of Félicien David

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.

Felicien David in 1858 0Felicien David.jpg
Félicien David in 1858

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); [1] 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 in a Brazilian setting (a reference to his 1851 opera comique, La perle du Bresil) surrounded by comic allusions to several of his major works, from an undated theatrical illustration (ca. 1860). 0Felicien David 2.jpg
David in a Brazilian setting (a reference to his 1851 opéra comique, La perle du Brésil) surrounded by comic allusions to several of his major works, from an undated theatrical illustration (ca. 1860).

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.




Related Research Articles

Théodore Dubois French composer

François-Clément Théodore Dubois was a French composer, organist and music teacher.

Ernest Reyer French opera composer and music critic

Louis Étienne Ernest Reyer was a French opera composer and music critic.

Édouard Deldevez French musician

Édouard-Marie-Ernest Deldevez was a French violinist, conductor at important Parisian musical institutions, composer, and music teacher.

Ernest Guiraud French composer and music teacher

Ernest Guiraud was a French composer and music teacher born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is best known for writing the traditional orchestral recitatives used for Bizet's opera Carmen and for Offenbach's opera Les contes d'Hoffmann.

Joseph Méry French writer

Joseph Méry was a French writer, journalist, novelist, poet, playwright and librettist.

Emma Calvé French operatic soprano

Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet, was a French operatic soprano.

French opera Opera in the French tradition

French opera is one of Europe's most important operatic traditions, containing works by composers of the stature of Rameau, Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Messiaen. Many foreign-born composers have played a part in the French tradition as well, including Lully, Gluck, Salieri, Cherubini, Spontini, Meyerbeer, Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Offenbach.

Émile Paladilhe French composer

Émile Paladilhe was a French composer of the late romantic period.

Georges Dandelot French composer

Georges Édouard Dandelot was a French composer and teacher.

Max dOllone French composer

Maximilien-Paul-Marie-Félix d'Ollone was a 20th-century French composer.

Marie Cico singer

Marie Cico, was a French singer of opéra-comique and operetta.

Edmond Cabel was a French operatic tenor.

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.

<i>Lalla-Roukh</i> opéra comique in two acts composed by Félicien David (1862)

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.

Hippolyte-Julien-Joseph Lucas French writer

Hippolyte-Julien-Joseph Lucas was a French writer and critic whose literary output was largely centered on theatre and opera.

Gabriel de Lurieu

Gabriel de Lurieu was a French author and playwright.

Gustave-Hippolyte Roger French opera singer

Gustave-Hippolyte Roger was a French tenor. He is best known for creating the leading tenor roles in La damnation de Faust by Berlioz in 1846 and Meyerbeer's Le prophète in 1849.

Adolphe Deslandres French composer and organist

Adolphe Édouard Marie Deslandres was a French composer and organist.

Paul Hillemacher French composer and pianist

Paul Joseph Guillaume Hillemacher was a French composer and classical pianist.

Alexandre Georges French organist and composer

Alexandre Georges was a French organist and composer.


  1. Cf. the content to this effect on [musicologie.org Musicologie.org].
  2. Musicologie.org- lists no.3 in E as being in E, but there is substantial evidence elsewhere that their key is wrong. No.3 is in E major, was published in 1846 by Meissonnier, can be seen in partial manuscript at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, and was recorded in 2017 by Ediciones Singulares.