André Campra Biography (BBC)
When, as a 20-yearold singer and trainee cleric at the cathedral in his home town of Aix-en-Provence, André Campra was threatened with dismissal for taking part in theatrical performances, it was an early example of the pull between two musical worlds that would define his whole career.
Born in 1660 to a French mother and Italian father, he held music directorships at the cathedrals of Arles and Toulouse before journeying to Paris in 1694 for additional training; within a few months he had acquired the post of maître de musique at Notre Dame Cathedral.
Although he published a number of small-scale motets at this time, the lure of the theatre remained strong, and in 1697 he produced his first stage works, including L’Europe galante, his first venture into the genre which he himself devised and with which he would become most associated: the opéra-ballet. Campra at first tried to hide his authorship of these works, but without success, and in 1700 he left Notre Dame to embark on a fruitful period as Paris’s leading composer for the stage, producing further opéra-ballets as well as some fine examples of serious opera (or tragédie-lyrique), among which Tancrède (1702) is considered the masterpiece.
In 1720 (by which time he had been granted a pension by the young Louis XV), Campra returned to composing sacred music with a fifth book of motets, and in 1723 he became a sous-maître at the Royal Chapel at Versailles; it was during this period that most of his large-scale motets for choir and orchestra were produced. He did not entirely give up the theatre, however, and in 1730 he was appointed Inspector General at the Opéra. He continued to work and publish until well into his seventies, and died in his apartment at Versailles at the age of 84.
Campra’s importance lies mainly in his stage music, in which he was the principal figure in the period between the death of Lully in 1687 and the dramatic emergence of Rameau as a major operatic composer in 1733. In creating the genre of opéra-ballet – in which a series of varied but thematically linked scenarios provided the opportunity for extensive sequences of singing and dancing – he let light into a French theatre scene dominated by Lully’s highbrow heroic tragedies. Perhaps not surprisingly, given his background, he introduced a number of Italian elements into French music, most explicitly in his secular chamber cantatas but also in a general style which he himself described as a mixture of French ‘delicatesse’ and Italian ‘vivacité’.
Profile © Lindsay Kemp
André Campra Tracks