Lebrun, Franziska (1756–1791)

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Lebrun, Franziska (1756–1791)

German composer, singer, and pianist who performed throughout Europe and whose popular compositions included a set of sonatas published in London in 1780. Name variations: Franziska LeBrun; Francesca LeBrun; Franziska Danzi LeBrun; Franziska Dorothea Danzi. Born Franziska Danzi in Mannheim, Germany, and baptized on March 24, 1756; died on May 14, 1791, in Berlin; daughter of Innocenzo Danzi (a violinist); sister of the noted composer Franz Danzi; sister-in-law of Maria Margarethe Danzi (1768–1800); married Ludwig August Lebrun (1746–1790, an oboist and composer), in 1778; children: Sophie Lebrun Dulcken (b. 1781, a singer and pianist better known as Mme Dulcken); Rosine Lebrun Stenzsch (1785–1855, a singer, pianist, and actress in comedy).

Made debut as Sandrina in Sacchini's La contadina in corte in Schwetzingen (1772); made London debut at King's Theater (1777); sang in inaugural season of La Scala (1778); became leading soprano at Mannheim Court opera and celebrated prima donna throughout Europe; composed two widely published sets of sonatas for piano and violin (1779–81).

Works include:

Six sonatas for fortepiano and violin, op. 1 and 2.

A contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franziska Lebrun was born Franziska Danzi in 1756 into a musical family living in Mannheim, Germany. Her exact date of birth is unknown, but her baptism is recorded as having taken place on March 24 of that year. Her Italian-born father Innocenzo Danzi was a musician, and her younger brother Franz Danzi was to become a well-known composer. Her daughters Sophie Lebrun Dulcken and Rosine Lebrun would follow in the family's musical footsteps, as would three of her granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

The city of Mannheim was celebrated throughout late 18th-century Europe for its musical traditions and the virtuosic quality of its orchestra, of which Franz Danzi was a member. Commentator Charles Burney wrote in 1775 that "there are more solo players, and good composers in this, than perhaps in any other orchestra in Europe."

The young Franziska made her operatic debut on August 9, 1772, at age 16. She sang the role of Sandrina in Sacchini's La contadina in corte at the "little theater" in Schwetzingen, the summer residence of the Elector Palatine. Burney, who was present at the performance, described her as "a German girl whose voice and execution are brilliant."

After the success of this debut, Franziska soon became principal soprano and "virtuoso da camera" of the Mannheim court opera, where she created lead roles in Holzbauer's Günther von Schwarzburg (1777) and Schweitzer's Rosamunde (1780). As well as appearing in Mannheim, she began touring as an opera star. Elector Karl Theodor granted her a year's leave of absence, and she made her London debut as Ariene in Sacchini's Cresco at the King's Theater on November 8, 1777. Her first season there included roles in works by J.C. Bach and Tommaso Giordano.

After London, she traveled to Paris to appear at the Concert Spirituel, and then to Milan, where she received the great honor of singing in the first season of the Teatro alla Scala, which opened on August 3, 1778. This invitation may have been brought about by Mattia Verazi, the court poet at Mannheim and librettist for La Scala's inaugural opera, Salieri's Europa riconosciuta.

Sometime in 1778, Franziska married Ludwig Lebrun, an accomplished and highly regarded oboist who had played in the Mannheim orchestra since 1764, when he was just 15. Ludwig's father Alexander Lebrun had also been an oboist, enjoying a 23-year tenure in the Mannheim orchestra. Ludwig frequently absented himself from the orchestra in order to accompany Franziska on her professional engagements around Europe. Traveling with her to London, Paris, Vienna and Italy, Ludwig sometimes gave solo concerts and sometimes performed with Franziska; he also composed music for the oboe, and some ballet music for the King's Theater in London, possibly for operas in which Franziska Lebrun, as she was now known, was appearing.

Franziska Lebrun returned to London for the 1779–80 and 1780–81 seasons, adding roles by Sacchini, Bertoni, Grétry and Rauzzini to her repertoire. During this sojourn in London, she began composing, publishing two sets of six keyboard sonatas with violin accompaniment that were later reprinted in several editions in Paris, Offenbach, Mannheim, Berlin, Amsterdam and Worms. In recent years, some of these compositions have been recorded and others have been reprinted in volume XV of the series Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Bayern. Lebrun was also a noted teacher, her pupils including Maria Margarethe Marchand (Maria Margarethe Danzi ), who eventually married her brother.

By 1782, Lebrun was one of the highest paid prima donnas in Europe. The Mannheim court moved to Munich, and in addition to singing there, she continued to tour Europe as an opera star and concert artist. She appeared in Verona and Vienna and spent a year in Naples (1786–87), returning to Munich for Carnival in 1787, when she performed in Vogler's Castore e Polluce. In 1789 and 1790, she traveled to Berlin to appear as a guest artist. While there, her husband died, and Lebrun gave her last performance, in Reichardt's Brenno, in 1790. Remaining in Berlin, Franziska Lebrun died there on May 14, 1791. Like Mozart, who would outlive her by only a few months, she was just 35 years old.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York