He was born at Marseille, the son of a conseiller to the Siège Présidial of the city. He was at first designated for an ecclesiastical career, from which he retained the courtesy title abbé. Though he was for a time a novitiate of the Servites at Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, he soon embarked on a career as a ship's bursar. Returning to France in 1703, he settled in Paris and composed his earliest poems, among them an Epître à Louis XIV, praising the Sun King's military successes, which gained the king's attention and the Académie française prize in 1704.
Probably thanks to Madame de Maintenon, Pellegrin succeeded in escaping the urging of his superiors that he become more fully integrated with his order; instead a papal dispensation enabled him to enter the Cluniac order, whereupon he was at the service of various schools, such as Saint-Cyr, for which he provided numerous pious cantiques spirituelles, in which he translated psalms and canticles and set them to familiar tunes from the opera, at the same time that his services were retained for the theatres and the opera, which permitted an otherwise unknown poet Rémi the epigram:
Catholic in the morning and idolater in the evening, he dined from the altar and supped from the theatre
Antoine de Léris esteemed him "an excellent grammarian and a most fecund author, to which he joined great goodness of heart and a grand simplicity of manner. Out of respect for his character as an abbé, he published most of his dramatic works under the name of his brother Jacques Pellegrin, styled the Chevalier Pellegrin".
From 1705 onward he wrote four tragedies with Greek and Roman settings, Polydore, La Mort d'Ulisse, Pelopée and Catilina, and six comedies, with modern aristocratic settings, Le Pere intéressé, ou la Fausse inconstance, Le Nouveau monde, Le Divorce de l'Amour et de la Raison, Le Pastor fido, L'Inconstant and L'Ecole de l'hymen.
At least seven of his libretti were set to music and presented at the Opéra: Télémaque with music by André Cardinal Destouches (20 November 1714), Renaud, ou la suite d'Armide with music by Henri Desmarest, (5 March 1722), Télégone with music by a certain La Coste, Orion (in collaboration, music by La Coste), La Princesse d'Elide, Jephté with music by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1732), and Hippolyte et Aricie with music by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1 October 1733), Rameau's first opera. The theatre anecdote would have the seasoned Pellegrin, who had demanded 500 livres for his poem, regardless of the work's success, tear up the promissory note on hearing the young Rameau's music, arguing that such a genius did not require such a stringent guarantee.
Pellegrin's collaborator was Marie-Anne Barbier, under whose name further works by Pellegrin appeared on the stage.
Pellegrin died at Paris in 1745.
- Jean-Philippe Rameau also entered the order of Servites whose novitiate was at Moustiers Sainte-Marie.
- Antoine de Léris, Dictionnaire portatif historique et littéraire des théâtres, 2nd ed. 1763, s.v. "Pellegrin, (l'abbé Simon-Joseph)"
- Quoted in Augustin Fabre, Histoire de Marseille, 1829, vol. 2:361.
- Léris, Dictionnaire portatif 1763, eo. loc.
- L'Abbé Pellegrin étoit un excellent Grammairien & un Auteur très-fécond ; à quoi il joignoit beaucoup de bonté, & une grande simplicité de mœurs. Par respect pour son caractère, il fit paroître la plûpart de ses ouvrages dramatiques sous le nom de Jacques Pellegrin son frère, qu'on appelloit le Chevalier (on-line text).
- "LA COSTE Musicien de l'Opéra, & Auteur d'un Livre de Cantates; mort depuis quelques années; a fait la Musique des Opera d' Aricie, de Philomele, de Bradamante, de Créuse, de Télégone, d' Orion, & de Biblis (Joseph de Laporte, Dictionnaire dramatique Paris, 1776, vol. 3, s.v. "La Coste")
- Besides Molière's play by the title La Princesse d'Elide, based on a work by Agustín Moreto y Cavana, and Jean-Baptiste Lully's comédie-ballet, operas may possibly have already been written on the subject: by Lavergne, 1676, and by A.-J, Villeneuve, 1698 (John Towers, Dictionary-catalogue of operas and operettas which have been performed on the public stage, 1910:516).
- Paul-Marie Masson, L'opéra de Rameau, 1930:108; The New Grove French Baroque Masters 1986, s.v. "Rameau, Jean-Philippe"; Graham Sadler, "Rameau, Pellegrin and the Opera: The Revisions of 'Hippolyte et Aricie' during Its First Season," The Musical Times 124 (September 1983:533-37); Cuthbert Morton Girdlestone, Jean-Philippe Rameau: his life and work - 1990:129.