Félicien David was born in Cadenet (Vaucluse), France, and began to study music at five under his father, whose early death however left him an impoverished orphan. His good voice enabled him to study as a choirboy at the Church of Saint-Saveur in Aix-en-Provence, which he left at the age of 15 with a sound knowledge of music, and a scholarship which enabled him to study literature at a Jesuit college. However, after three years, he abandoned these studies to pursue a musical career.
He first obtained a position in the orchestra of the theatre at Aix. In 1829, he became maître de chapelle at Saint-Saveur, but realised that to complete his musical education he needed to study at Paris. An allowance of 50 francs per month from a rich uncle made this possible.
In Paris in 1830 he convinced Luigi Cherubini, the director of the Conservatoire, to enrol him as a pupil: despite his reservations, Cherubini recognised the talent shown by David's choral setting of Beatus vir. Despite the sudden withdrawal of his uncle's subsidy, David's studies, with Fétis and others, continued successfully.
On leaving the Conservatoire, David was caught up in the Saint-Simonian movement, for which he became a great enthusiast. The Saint-Simonians held music to be an important art, and David wrote much music for them, including a number of hymns. After the suppression of the movement in 1832, David joined with a number of adepts who visited the Middle East. This also proved a source of strong inspiration, leading eventually to his greatest success, the symphonic ode Le désert of 1844.
Returning to Paris in 1833, he wrote a number of romances, and instrumental music including three symphonies (in F major, E♭ major and C minor, composed in 1837, 1838 and 1849); by 1838/39 he was sufficiently successful to be able to arrange public performances of his works. With Le Désert he was acknowledged by the public and the critics as a significant force. The Revue et gazette musicale announced, the morning after its premiere, ' A great composer has been born amongst us'. To relieve his substantial debts, the composer however sold the rights to his masterpiece for a relatively small sum.
David wrote a number of operas, of which the most notable are Christophe Colomb (1847), La perle du Brésil (1851), Herculanum (1859, and Lalla-Roukh (1862). Amongst his oratorios are Moïse au Sinaï ('Moses on Sinai') (1846), and Eden (1848).
- David, Félicien-César, 1810-1876 Biography and list of compositions from Musicology.org (in French).
- This article is based on the article on Félicien David in French Wikipedia.
- Free scores by Félicien David at the International Music Score Library Project
- David's Piano Trio in E-flat Major Score and Parts from Sibley Music Library Digital Scores Collection
- David Piano Trio Nos. 2 and 3, sound-bites, discussion of works, short biography and sheet music