Louis Théodore Gouvy

Louis Théodore Gouvy.

Louis Théodore Gouvy (July 3, 1819  April 21, 1898) was a French composer.


Gouvy was born into a French-speaking family in the village of Goffontaine, in the Sarre, a region on the France-Prussia border (now Saarbrücken-Schafbrücke, Germany). Because this region fell under Prussian control shortly before his birth, Théodore Gouvy could not attain French citizenship until the age of 32. He began piano lessons with a private tutor at the age of eight, and was educated in France—Sarreguemines, then Metz—developing a keen interest in Classical Greek culture and in modern languages—not only German, which he spoke fluently, but English and Italian as well. In 1837 he went to Paris to study law, continuing his piano lessons with a pupil of the pianist and composer Henri Herz (1803–1888) and became friendly with Adolphe Adam. This led to further music studies in Paris and Berlin. Unable to pursue music instruction at the Conservatoire de Paris, he took up private courses.

Gouvy was a man of two cultures, divided between France and Germany, from which he drew his inspiration, his characteristics and his force. While to a certain extent he was known and recognized in his lifetime, he fell into obscurity following his death. Gouvy, drawn toward pure instrumental music as opposed to opera, set himself the unenviable task of becoming a French symphonist. It was unenviable because the French, and especially the Parisians, throughout most of the 19th century were opera-mad and not particularly interested in pure instrumental music. It was this disdain for instrumental music in general which led to Gouvy living the last third of his life almost entirely in Germany where he was much appreciated.

During his lifetime, his compositions, and especially his chamber music, were held in high regard and often performed in those countries (Germany, Austria, England, Scandinavia, and Russia) where chamber music mattered. But in France, he never achieved real acclaim. Gouvy was universally acknowledged for being a master of form and for his deft sense of instrumental timbre. Mendelssohn and Schumann were his models and his music developed along the lines one might have expected of those men had they lived longer. Virtually all of his works show that he was a gifted melodist whose music is a joy to hear.

Musicians of the first rank such as Johannes Brahms, Carl Reinecke, and Joseph Joachim, who were familiar with Gouvy's music, held it in high regard.

Hector Berlioz wrote in the Journal des Débats of April 13, 1851: "[t]hat a musician of the importance of M. Gouvy is still not very well known in Paris, and that so many gnats bother the public with their tenacious buzzing, it is enough to confuse and inflame the naive spirits that still believe in the reason and the justice of our musical manners".

Berlioz's favorable reviews had little effect, and Gouvy's music continued to be neglected until the end of the 20th century. In 1994, his Requiem, with its vigorous Dies iræ, was revived by the Lorraine Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Jacques Houtmann (who recorded a CD of the work, which appeared the K617 label). Stylistically the composition owes something to Mendelssohn, something to Gounod, and something to Verdi, but remains quietly original despite these influences.

Although his work comprises more than two hundred compositions, including 90 opuses published in his lifetime, it largely remains ignored. In particular, he wrote twenty-four compositions for a full orchestra,[1] including nine symphonies, as well as overtures and variations. Chamber music comprises a large portion of Gouvy's work and accounts in particular for four sonatas in duet form, five trios, eleven quartets, seven quintets, an enormous piano repertoire for two and four hands and for two pianos, several scores for wind instrument ensembles, as well as many melodies and Lieder. We also know of five great dramatic cantatas (Aslega, Œdipe à Colone, Iphigénie en Tauride, Électre, and Polyxène), two operas (Le Cid and Mateo Falcone) as well as some large religious works, including a Requiem, a Stabat Mater, a Messe brève, and the cantata Golgotha.

Gouvy was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1894 on the death of Anton Rubinstein, and to the König-Preussische Akademie in Berlin in 1895. He died in Leipzig on 21 April 1898.

A list of his works was compiled by François-Joseph Fétis and Arthur Pougin.[2]



Chamber Music


Choral Works




  1. Rosenkranz, A. (1902). Novello's catalogue of orchestral music: a manual of the orchestral literature of all countries at Google Books, New York: Novello, Ewer & Co., page 51. OCLC 13278734.
  2. 1 2 Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians: Ed. by J. A. Fuller Maitland, 1906 edition at Google Books, page 211
  3. 1 2 3 published by Richault of Paris in the 1850s
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Recorded on cpo.
  5. 1 2 3 Released on Sterling in early 2010
  6. 1 2 Released on cpo in mid-2009
  7. Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik, 3 Feb. 1854, p.61.
  8. Fétis' entry for Gouvy, volumes 3-4, pp. 73-4.
  9. The Neue Berliner Musikzeitung for 3 December 1856 notes a Leipzig performance from manuscript conducted by the composer in a concert of 25 November of that year. So premiered no later than 1856 at any rate.
  10. "Permanent Link for Catalog Entry at University of Michigan of Gouvy Symphony op. 58". Paris: S. Richault. 1880s. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  11. published by Kistner in 1886 (Hofmeisters Monatsberichte, scanned images at ÖNB searchable at http://www.hofmeister.rhul.ac.uk/, the source for this)
  12. published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1893
  13. "Theodore Gouvy Piano Quintet in A major, Op.24". Retrieved December 20, 2010.

External links

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