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Andre Gretry: Andre Gretry (b. Liege, 11 Feb 1741; d. Montmorency, 29 Sept 1813).
Andre Gretry received his early musical training first as a chorister at St Denis, Liege, and then as a pupil of Nicolas Renekin and Henri Moreau, both local musicians. His early compositions (symphonies, masses and motets) evidenced sufficient talent to win him a grant allowing him to study for a period in Italy. From 1760 to the beginning of 1766 he was attached to the Liege College in Rome; here he engaged in a thorough, if highly conservative, course in compositional techniques under G. B. Casali, maestro di capella at St John Lateran. Afterwards he took the examination of the Accademia dei Filarmonici in Bologna (supervised by Padre Martini) qualifying himself for a church post. However, his future was to lie in an entirely different direction.
His interest in the theatre received its first real encouragement with the success of Le Vendemmiatrice, an intermezzo commissioned for and performed during the Roman carnival in 1765. Andre Gretry moved next to Geneva, where he composed the music for the comedy Isabelle el Gertrude (1767); again a success. After this, on the advice of Voltaire, he decided to try his luck in Paris. But Les Mariages samnites (1768) was a disaster. It offended Parisian taste. To please a French audience, Andre Gretry had to learn to handle French declamation in the approved style, to study the manner in which his dramatis personae might be presented with deeper psychological insight, and to be prepared to simplify his musical inventiveness, to make it fully the servant of dramatic events. He needed only a year: in 1768 he produced Le Huron (libretto by Marmontel) at the Theatre des Italiens; it enjoyed an immediate and resounding success.
Le Huron was the first of a long series of stage works with which Andre Gretry established and maintained his position in Paris as the leading composer of opera comique during the latter part of the 18th century. His attempts at tragedie, for example in Andromaque (1780), did not meet with the same success. His muse was not suited to that genre. Operas such as Lucile (1769), Le Tableau parlant (1769), Sylvain (1770), and Zemire et Azor(l77l) revealed the strengths of Andre Gretry's genius, and those aspects upon which he was to build. Lucile, by its tenderness and simplicity, found a particularly responsive resonance in the naive sensibilities of the Parisian public; Le Tableau parlant, in its open humour, radiated unaffected joy; Zemire et Azor, through the richness of Andre Gretry's invention, added oriental splendour to the fantasy of Marmontel's libretto. In these works Andre Gretry derived from Italian sources his melodic freshness and sense of line; from French sources his simple declamatory style. He endeared himself to the philosophes by his natural grace and simplicity, and yet remained close enough to his Italian roots to earn himself the title The French Pergolesi'.
Of his operas after Zemire etAzor, the three he wrote on libretti by d'Hele (alias Hales), Le Jugement de Midas (1778), L'Amant jaloux (1778), and Les Evenements imprevus (1779), were among his most popular, combining in equal measure charm and good humour. But we have to wait for the works of the 1780s, and in particular Richard-Coeur-de-Lion (1784), to reach the summit of his career.
Andre Gretry continued to compose for the stage after the overthrow of the French monarchy, but of course on subjects near to Republican ideals (Guillaume Tell, 1791; Denis le Tyran, 1794; etc.), but it is clear that the composer's heart was not in his work. As he wrote less and less as a musician, so he took to literary activities, publishing his Memoires (1789-97) and engaging on other works of a general philosophical nature, such as De la Verite (Paris, 1800/1) and Reflexions d'un Solitaire (MS). Having lost all three of his daughters and his wife, he spent his declining years in isolation in the former hermitage of J. J. Rousseau at Montmorency. Here he died in comparative obscurityin 1813.
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