Monsigny, Pierre-Alexandre, noted French composer; b. Fauquembergues, near St.-Omer, Oct. 17, 1729; d. Paris, Jan. 14, 1817. He was educated at the Jesuit college in St.-Omer, where he also received instruction in violin. Upon his father’s death, he abandoned his studies in order to support his family, taking a job in the Paris offices of the receiver-general of the Clergé de France (1749). Several years later he was befriended by the Duke of Orléans, who encouraged him to pursue his musical career. After studying for 5 months with the double-bass player Gianotti, he successfully brought out his first opera, Les Aveux indiscrets (Théâtre de la Foire St.-Germain, Feb. 7, 1759). In quick succession, and with increasing success, the same theater brought out 3 more of Monsigny’s operas:Le Maître en droit (Feb. 23, 1760), Le Cadi dupé (Feb. 4, 1761), and On ne s avise jamais de tout (Sept. 14, 1761). The members of the Comédie-Italienne, alarmed at the rising prestige of the rival enterprise, succeeded in closing it, by exercise of vested privilege, and took over its best actors. Thereafter Monsigny wrote most of his works for the Théâtre-Italien and the private theaters of the Duke of Orléans, having become the latter’s maître d’hôtel in 1768. After scoring a triumph with his Félix, ou L’Enfant trouvé (Fontainebleau, Nov. 10, 1777), he abruptly abandoned his career as a composer for the theater. His patron died in 1785 and the new duke abolished Monsigny’s job, but retained him as inspector of the canals of Orléans. With the coming of the Revolution, he lost his post. He obtained a pension from the Opéra-Comique (1798) and served as Inspector of Musical Education from 1800 until the post was abolished in 1802. His last years were relieved by several pensions; he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (1804) and was elected to Grétry’s chair in the Institut de France (1813). Monsigny possessed an uncommon and natural melodic invention, and sensibility in dramatic expression, but his theoretical training was deficient; still, his works attained the foremost rank among the precursors of the French comic operas.
dramatic (all 1st perf. in Paris unless otherwise given):Les Aveux indiscrets, opéra-comique (Feb. 7, 1759); Le Maître en droit, opéra-comique (Feb. 23, 1760); Le Cadi dupé, opéra-comique (Feb. 4, 1761); On ne s’avise jamais de tout, opéra-comique (Sept. 14, 1761); Le Roy et le fermier, comédie (Nov. 22, 1762); Le Nouveau Monde, divertissement (1763; not perf.); Rose et Colas, comédie (March 8, 1764); Le Bouquet de
Thalie, prologue (Bagnolet, Dec. 25, 1764); Aline, reine de Gol-conde, ballet héroïque (April 15, 1766); Philemon et Baucis, comédie (Bagnolet, 1766); L’Isle sonnante, opéra-comique (Bagnolet, June 5, 1767); Le Déserteur, drame (March 6, 1769); La Rosière de Salency, comédie (Fontainebleau, Oct. 25, 1769; in collaboration with Philidor, Blaise, and Swieten); Pagamin de Monègue, opéra- comique (c. 1770; not perf.); Le Faucon, opéra-comique (Fontainebleau, Nov. 2, 1771); La Belle Arsène, comédie féerie (Fontainebleau, Nov. 6, 1773; rev. for Paris, Aug. 14, 1775); Félix, ou L’Enfant trouvé, comédie (Fontainebleau, Nov. 10, 1777); Robin et Marion (n.cL; not perf.).
A. Quatremère de Quincy, Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de M. de M. (Paris, 1818); P. Hédouin, Notice historique sur P.-A. de M. (Paris, 1821); F. de Ménil, Les Grands Musiciens du Nord: M. (Paris, 1893); A. Pougin, M. et son temps (Paris, 1908); P. Druilhe, M.:Sa vie et son oeuvre (Paris, 1955).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire