Can't have a Revolution if the Music Isn't Right | Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: Can't have a Revolution if the Music Isn't Right

February 01, 2013

Can't have a Revolution if the Music Isn't Right

Antonie Vestier, Portrait de François-Joseph Gossec, 1791
Francois Joseph Gossec was a talented musician and his own worst critic.  He was born in 1734 and would develop a true talent and passion for symphonies.  Unfortunately for the young Gossec, France was not in the market for symphonies.  In fact, quite opposite, there was a general disdain for a symphony, and lyrics were in.  Le Opera was all the rage.

Gossec turned to writing Operas Comiques.  His brief career in the new medium proved short, only two years! His career did not take another turn until 1773 when he became the director of Concert Spirtuel. All the while he was well known, and a very strong composer.

In his new position he wrote music for the church, and experienced success. He had never been truly unsuccessful, but because he was not producing grand symphonies, he never felt fully accomplished.   His Grand Messe des Morts was written in 1760 and remained popular for decades.  He continued to work on tragédies-lyrique which were operas on serious subjects.

In 1774 he wrote a historical opera, Sabinus. It was a hit! It premiered in Paris and was all people talked about, for two short months. Gluck had soon after premiered his  Iphigénie en Aulide, instantly pushing Sabinus down the charts. Bittersweet. 

Possibly by Jacques-Louis David, Gossec. Via
At the end of 1789 there was a demand to commemorate the Bastille with a festival. the National Festival of the Federation was planned to be held on July 14, 1790.  Still known for his Concert Spirituel he was picked to compose a piece for the Thanksgiving Mass to be held the day of the festival. He composed Le Triomphe De La République. Although he was not writing his beloved symphonies he enjoyed well known reputation from his pieces composed for the state.

 Here are some of his works, recognize any?

Le Triomphe De La République
Grand Messe des Morts


  1. As a musicology student I loved your article! It was very interesting and helped me know that composer better. Keep it up! I read your blog regularly :)

  2. @Julia I am so glad you like it! If your music studies bring you to any 18th century-related research, you should write a guest post! :o)

  3. I know how to play his gavotte in the violin! :D I always loved this piece I find it very playful but didn't know who the composer was. Thanks for posting this