Grétry, André-Ernest-Modeste, greatly significant French composer of Walloon descent; b. Liege, Feb. 8, 1741; d. Montmorency, near Paris, Sept. 24, 1813. He was a choirboy and 2nd violinist at the collegiate church of St. Denis in Liege (1750-60), where his father served as violinist; he subsequently studied voice with François Leclerc, thoroughbass with H.F. Renkin, and composition with Henri Moreau. About 1754 an Italian opera company gave a season in Liege, and young Gretry thus received his first impulse toward dramatic music. His early works were instrumental; his first syms. were performed at the home of his patron, Canon Simon de Harlez; the latter helped him to obtain a scholarship to the College de Liege in Rome, where he studied harmony with G.B. Casali (1761-65). While in Rome, he composed mainly sacred music; however, he did write 2 intermezzos entitled La Vendemmiatrice for Carnival 1765. He was in Geneva in 1766 as a music teacher; there he met Voltaire, who advised him to go to Paris; before his departure, he produced the opera-comique Isabelle et Gertrude (Dec. 1766), to a libretto by Favart, after Voltaire. He arrived in Paris in the autumn of 1767, where he sought the patronage of aristocrats and diplomats; the Swedish ambassador, the Count de Creutz, gave him the first encouragement by obtaining for him Marmontel’s comedy Le Huron’, it was performed with Gretry’s music at the Comedie-Italienne (Aug. 20, 1768). From then on, he produced operas one after another, without interruption, even during the years of the French Revolution.
The merit of Gretry’s operas lies in their melodies and dramatic expression. He was not deeply versed in the science of music; yet despite this lack of craftsman-ship, he achieved fine effects of vocal and instrumental writing. His operas suffered temporary eclipse when Mehul and Cherubini entered the field, but public interest was revived by the magnificent tenor Elleviou in 1801. The changes in operatic music during the next 30 years caused the neglect of his works. Nevertheless, Gretry—the “Moliere of music,” as he was called—founded the school of French opera-comique, of which Boieldieu, Auber, and Adam were worthy successors. He was greatly honored; he was elected a member of many artistic and learned institutions in France and abroad; the Prince-Bishop of Liege made him a privy councillor in 1784; a street in Paris was named for him in 1785; he was admitted to the Institut de France in 1795, as one of the first 3 chosen to represent the dept. of musical composition; he was also appointed inspector of the Paris Cons, in 1795, but resigned after just a few months. Napoleon made him a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur in 1802, and granted him a pension of 4,000 francs in compensation for losses during the Revolution. His daughter, Lucille (real name, Angelique-Dorothee-Lucie; b. Paris, July 15, 1772; d. there, Aug. 25, 1790), was a gifted musician; at the age of 13, with some assistance from her father, she composed an opera, Le Manage d’Antonio, which was produced at the Opera-Comique on July 29, 1786; her 2nd opera, Toinette et Louis, was produced on March 23, 1787. F.A. Gevaert, E. Fetis, A. Wotquenne, and others ed. a Collection complete des oeuvres (Leipzig, 1884-1936).
DRAMATIC Operas - comiques (all 1st perf. in Paris unless otherwise given): Isabelle et Gertrude, on Les Sylphes supposes (Geneva, Dec. 1766); Le Huron (Aug. 20, 1768); Lucile (Jan. 5, 1769); Le Tableau parlant (Sept. 20, 1769); Silvain (Feb. 19, 1770); Les Deux Avares (Fontainebleau, Oct. 27, 1770); L’Amitie a l’epreuve (Fontainebleau, Nov. 13, 1770); L’Ami de la maison (Fontainebleau, Oct. 26, 1771); Zemire et Azor (Fontainebleau, Nov. 9, 1771); Le Magnifique (March 4, 1773); La Rosiere de Salency (Fontainebleau, Oct. 23, 1773); La Fausse Magie (Feb. 1, 1775); Matroco (Nov. 3, 1777); Le Jugement de Midas (March 28, 1778); Les Fausses Apparences, ou L’Amant jaloux (Versailles, Nov. 20, 1778); Les Evenements imprevus (Versailles, Nov. 11, 1779); Aucassin et Nicolette, ou Les Moeurs du bon vieux temps (Versailles, Dec. 30, 1779); Theodore et Paulin (Versailles, March 5, 1784); Richard Coeur-de-lion (Oct. 21, 1784); Les Meprises par ressemblance (Fontainebleau, Nov. 7, 1786); Le Comte d’Albert (Fontainebleau, Nov. 13, 1786); Le Prisonnier anglais (Dec. 26, 1787); Le Rival confident (June 26, 1788); Raoul Barbe-bleue (March 2, 1789); Pierre le Grand (Jan. 13, 1790); Guillaume Tell (April 9,1791); Cecile et Ermance, ou Les Deux Convents (Jan. 16, 1792); Basile, ou A trompeur, trompeur et demi (Oct. 17, 1792); Le Congres des rois (Feb. 26, 1794; in collaboration with others); Joseph Barra (June 5, 1794); Callias, ou Nature et patrie (Sept. 19, 1794); Lisbeth (Jan. 10, 1797); Le Barbier du village, ou Le Revenant (May 6, 1797); Elisca, ou L’Amour maternel (Jan. 1, 1799). Other : La Vendemmiatrice, 2 intermezzos (Rome, Carnival 1765); Les Manages samnites, opera (Jan. 1768?; rev. version, June 12, 1776); Cephale et Procris, ou L’Amour conjugal, opera-ballet (Versailles, Dec. 30, 1773); Amour pour amour, 3 divertissements (Versailles, March 10, 1777); Les Trois Ages de l’opera, prologue (April 27, 1778); Andromaque, opera (June 6, 1780); Emilie, ou La Belle Esclave, opera-ballet (Feb. 22, 1781); Colinette a la cour, ou La Double epreuve, opera (Jan. 1, 1782); L’Embarras des richesses, opera (Nov. 26, 1782); Thalie au nouveau theatre, prologue (April 28, 1783); La Caravane du Caire, opera-ballet (Fontainebleau, Oct. 30, 1783); Panurge dans 1’ile des lanternes, opera (Jan. 25, 1785); Amphitryon, opera (Versailles, March 15, 1786); Aspasie, opera (March 17, 1789); Denys le tyran, maitre d’ecole a Corinthe, opera (Aug. 23, 1794); La fete de la raison, later called La Rosiere republicaine, ou La Fete de la vertu, opera (Sept. 2, 1794); Anacreon chez Polycrate, opera (Jan. 17, 1797); Le Casque et les colombes, opera-ballet (Nov. 7, 1801); Le Menage, later called Delphis et Mopsa, opera (Feb. 15, 1803). Several other stage works listed by Gretry were either never performed or were left unfinished.
Memoires, ou Essais sur la musique (Paris, 1789; 2nd ed., aug., 1797); De la verite, ce que nous fumes, ce que nous, sommes, ce que nous devirons etre (Paris, 1801); Reflexions d’un solitaire (unfinished MS, 1801-13; ed. by L. Solvay and E. Closson, 4 vols., Brussels and Paris, 1919-22); Methode simple pour apprendre a preluder en peu de temps, avec toutes les ressources de l’harmonie (Paris, 1903).
Comte de Livry, Recueil de lettres ecrites a G., ou a son sujet (Paris, 1809); A.J. Gretry, G. en famille … precedees de son oraison funebre par M. Eouilly (Paris, 1814); F. Van Hulst, G. (Liege, 1842); L. de Saegher, Notice biographique sur A. G. (Brussels, 1869); E. Gregoir, G.: Celebre compositeur beige (Brussels, 1883); J. Ronge and F. Delhasse, G. (Brussels, 1883); C. Gheude, G. (Liege, 1906); H. de Curzon, G. (Paris, 1907); E. Closson, A.- M. G. (Turnhout and Brussels, 1920); P. Long des Clavieres, La Jeunesse de G. et ses debuts a Paris (Besangon, 1921);H. Wichmann, G. und das musikalische Theater in Frankreich (Halle, 1929); J. Bruyr, G. (Paris, 1931); J. Sauvenier, A. G. (Brussels, 1934); M. Degey, A.-M. G. (Brussels, 1939); S. Clercx, G., 1741-1813 (Brussels, 1944); G. de Froidcourt, G., Rouget de Lisle et la Marseillaise (Liege, 1945); idem ed., La Correspondance generale de G. (Brussels, 1962); R. Jobe, The Operas of A- E.-M. G. (diss., Univ. of Mich., 1965); D. Charlton, G. and the Growth of Opera Comique (Cambridge, 1986); R. Mortier and H. Hasquin, eds., Fetes et musiques revolutionnaires: G. et Gossec (Brussels, 1990); Y. Lenoir, ed., A.-E.-M. G.: Lettres autographes conservees a la bibliotheque Royale Albert Ier (Brussels, 1991); P. Vendrix, ed., G. et l’Europe de l’opera- comique (Liege, 1992).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire