François-Joseph Gossec was born in 1734 in the Netherlands and studied from the age of 6 the violin, cembalo, harmony and composition. He came to Paris in 1751 where he spent his whole career as a musician and a teacher until he died in 1829. Rameau helped him get hired as a violonist and a continuo player by Alexandre-Jean-Joseph Le Riche de La Popelinière. He took on the direction of the orchestra when his master died in 1756. Gossec founded many concert associations, among which Le Concert des amateurs or Le Concert spirituel, and from 1784 he was the head of the École royale de chant et de déclamation (Royal School of Singing and Declamation). It became the Institut national de musique, the Conservatoire, under his leadership and Grétry’s. He taught there composition until 1814.
As many musicians, Gossec had a very active role in the revolutionary movement. Among his repertoire, there are numerous marches, symphonies for winds, or songs, serving the new regime and that can be considered as a “civic music”. L’Offrande à la liberté (1792), with his orchestration of the Marseillaise, is an obvious example.
He also remains famous for his instrumental music and his about 50 symphonies, contributing to the development of the genre in France, which earned him the nickname of “father of the French symphony”, mainly because “at each step of the development of the symphony in France, he was among the innovators”. The first ones, earlier than Haydn’s symphonies, are very Italian with their three movements structure and their orchestration for strings, whereas from the opus 4, the addition of the minuet-trio, the inclusion of winds and the double thematic material of the sonata form, show the influence of the Mannheim school.
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