The Toulouse-Philidor Collection—A Suite in Five Parts

October 1, 1979

On Monday, June 26, 1978, there was sold at Sotheby's (Sotheby Parke Bernet & Company) galleries at 34 New Bond Street in London, a precious and magnificent collection of manuscript and printed scores comprising works by Campra, Colasse, Couperin, Desmarets, Destouches, Lalande, Lully, and other French composers, mainly of the 17th and 18th centuries. Known as the Toulouse-Philidor Collection, it had been for more than a century the property of St. Michael's College, Tenbury, Worcestershire. It consisted of 67 printed and 295 manuscript volumes, most of the latter in the hand of André Danican Philidor, called Philidor l'aîné. The Collection was duly sold on the date scheduled, for 120,000 pounds sterling (equivalent on that day to $231,600). Who was Philidor l'aîné, and how did such a valuable collection of French music find its way to the west of England and eventually to the auction block at Sotheby's?


Ouverture à la française

André Danican Philidor was one of the most distinguished members of a family of musicians, fourteen of whom served the French court from the reign of Louis XIII through that of Louis XVI. They were descended from a Scots family named Duncan which had emigrated to France during the 16th century and settled on the coast of Normandy, where a hamlet named Doncanville once testified to their former residence. In the course of several decades the name was corrupted to Danican, and a part of the family moved to the province of Dauphiné. From there, probably around the year 1620, a musician named Michel Danican, an oboist, migrated to Paris. By some means or other he managed to play before the King. According to an old tradition his playing reminded Louis XIII of a Sienese oboist named Filidori whose playing had pleased the court several years before, and the monarch cried out in delight, "I have found another Philidor!" In due course the family adopted Philidor as their surname, perhaps as a gesture to the royal will as several of them became musicians in the service of the court.1

André l'aîné was the grandson of that first Philidor. He was called Philidor the elder to distinguish him from his younger brother Jacques, also a musician at the court, who was called Philidor le cadet. His birth date is unknown, but he would seem to have been about 12 years of age when he received his first appointment in the Grande Écurie in 1659, which would fix his birth as approximately 1647. He served the court as player of treble, tenor and bass cromorne, marine trumpet, and drum in the Grande Écurie, bass cromorne in the Chapel, and oboe and bassoon in the Chamber. On occasion he performed solos on most of these instruments in the presence of the King. He was also a competent composer, contributing a great amount of music for the entertainment of the court in conjunction with—and sometimes in competition with—Lully, Couperin, and others. Louis XIV was pleased with the talents of André l'aîné; about 1682 the King made him a grant of land at Versailles on which to build a house.

About 1673 André l'aîné married Marguerite Montginot; they had 17 children before her death in 1713. In 1719 André took a second wife, Elisabeth Le Roy, a young woman of 19 years whose family was in the service of the court. About the same time he gave up his duties at the court and moved to Dreux, where Princess Anne de Condé gave him a house on her estate. André and his young wife had six children, of whom the third, François-André, born when his father was 79 years old, became the most famous member of all the family.2 André l'aîné was officially retired from the roster of musicians of the Chapel in 1722, and from the Chamber and the Grande Écurie in 1729. When he died on August 11, 1730, he had been a musician of the court for 70 years, of which 60 had been spent in active service.

In 1684, on recommendation of Anne-Jules, duc de Noailles, André l'aîné was named keeper (garde) of the King's Music Library. He was in fact assistant to François Fossard, but the latter seems to have given Philidor free rein, and after a short time evidently resigned from his duties completely. Fossard had limited his work as librarian to keeping in order the current musical repertoire of the units comprising the music of the court. André l'aîné conceived his duties as being much broader, and his activity as librarian deserves the lasting gratitude of all ages. He made it his task to collect operas, ballets, motets, and other music of his own time and also many miscellaneous airs, dances, and various pieces used at the court since the days of Francis I. From the instrumental and vocal parts of these works he made full scores, comprising in all 59 folio volumes, laboriously copied out by hand, handsomely bound, and decorated with the arms of Louis XIV. Some of these volumes have been lost, and a few were even willfully destroyed early in the 19th century, but 34 volumes are still extant in the Bibliothèque Nationale.

These 59 volumes were, however, only a small part of Philidor's total output. The City Library of Versailles possesses a collection of 35 volumes in the handwriting of André l'aîné. These contain mostly the works of Lully, and seem not to have been copied for Louis XIV or for any specific patron. In addition there are single volumes in André's handwriting owned by various libraries and individuals.

The largest assemblage of André's work is to be found in what has become known as the Toulouse-Philidor Collection. These volumes had been the property of, and were expressly copied for, the comte de Toulouse,3 as almost all the volumes are stamped with his arms. In 1723 the comte de Toulouse married Marie-Victoire-Sophie de Noailles, widow of the marquis de Gondrin; their son was the duc de Penthièvre. The daughter of this duke, Louise-Marie-Adelaide de Bourbon-Penthièvre, married the infamous duc d'Orléans known to history as Philippe Égalité (who was the great-great-grandson of the first duc d'Orléans, Philippe, the younger brother of Louis XIV). Their son was Louis-Philippe I, who became King of the French in July 1830. And thus did the Philidor manuscripts, the heritage of the Toulouse Bourbons, come into the Royal Library, where they were duly stamped Bibliothèque du Roi.

In 1848 Louis-Philippe abdicated his throne and fled to England, where he died in 1850. In December 1852 his libraries were sold at auction in Paris. The Toulouse-Philidor Collection was bought by a William Hope, for, it would appear, the incredibly low sum of 600 francs! Within a few years the Collection had been acquired by Sir Frederick Ouseley, an English baronet.4 Ouseley never revealed how he obtained possession of the Collection; it is possible that Hope had acted as his agent from the beginning. When Ouseley died, he left to St. Michael's College the library acquired by himself and his father, and thus after many vicissitudes the Philidor manuscripts came to rest in the library of a small college in the west of England.


Intermède; catalogue raisonné

As noted above, 67 volumes of the Collection are printed (or engraved) scores. They include works by Aubert le vieux, Béarn, Bertin de la Doue, Blamont, Bodin de Boismortier, Bourgeois, Campra, Charpentier, Clérambault, Desmarets, Destouches, Francoeur and Rebel, Gervais, Gatti, La Barre, La Coste, Lully, Marais, Morin, Mouret, Montéclair, Royer, Salomon, Stuck, and Villeneuve.

It is the 295 manuscript volumes which have drawn the most attention from musicologists, representing as they do many works which are not otherwise available.5 The Toulouse-Philidor manuscripts include (1) Five large folio service books written by André l'aîné in 1691 for the Royal Chapel of Louis XIV. They are inscribed: Festivitatum omnium quae in sacello Regis Christianissimi celebrantur. Liber primus [secundus, etc.] Recueilly par Philidor l'aisné, Ordinaire de la Musique du Roy. L'an 1691. It should be noted that these five volumes were not part of the Collection originally and had, in fact, been acquired by Ouseley in June 1849. Since they bear the arms of Louis XIV and were obviously not copied for the comte de Toulouse, they are not part of the Toulouse-Philidor Collection, but have become associated with it. (2) Twenty-one folio volumes containing operas by Lully, Campra, Colasse, Destouches, Desmarets, Marais, and Gatti. (3) One hundred ten oblong folio volumes comprising the vocal part-books of the choral numbers in the preceding 21 volumes, plus additional operas of Lully and Campra. These are inscribed: Copiez par l'Ordre de son Altesse Serenissime le comte de Toulouse, par Philidor l'aisné, Ordinaire de la Musique du Roi et Garde de toute sa Bibliothèque de Musique, et par son fils aisné. They are nearly all dated 1703. (4) Eighty-two oblong folio volumes, comprising the instrumental part-books of the same operas, likewise inscribed as above. (5) A miscellaneous group of 77 oblong folio volumes, of which about 45 are in the hand of Philidor l'aîné. These include motets, overtures, and other works by Lully, Campra, Desmarets, and other composers.6

There are at least 13 different hands represented in the manuscripts of the Collection. That found most often is the hand of André l'aîné himself, and the next most common hand is probably that of his eldest son, Anne Danican Philidor (1681-1728), destined to be the founder of the Concert spirituel.7 The other copyists cannot be positively identified.

Despite occasional lacunae such as missing volumes, and many discrepancies between the manuscript volumes and (later) printed versions of some of the works, the corpus of André's work constitutes an almost unparalleled source for its era. According to one eminent musicologist, "Despite having undergone some inevitable losses and dispersal, it remains the most valuable testimony of the French classical school, . . . musicological workmanship before its time, particularly meritorious in an age when it was claimed that French music began with Lully."8


Tempête en forme d'une fugue

When the decision of the trustees of St. Michael's College to sell a portion of their valuable library became known,9 it generated a considerable stir in the musical (and literary) world. On April 22 the Times published a letter from Alexander Hyatt King, president of the Royal Musical Association:

During its recent conference at Cambridge, the Royal Musical Association was concerned to learn that the famous "Toulouse-Philidor" collection of French music, the property of the Trustees of St. Michael's College, Tenbury, is to be sold at Sotheby's on June 26. . . . The conference passed a resolution expressing the hope that it would be sold intact, and if possible, kept in this country.

A report in the June 6 issue of Le Monde expressed similar fears and added a patriotic wish:

. . . Sold on the death [of Louis-Philippe], the Collection has not been dispersed, and musicologists of many countries come regularly to consult it at Tenbury. They are disturbed about the dangers inherent in a public auction, and these are understandable unless the Bibliothèque Nationale should find the necessary funds to repatriate a not unimportant part of the French artistic heritage.

Moving the bureaucracy into action, especially rapid action, is a well-nigh impossible task in any country. But in this case there was a person vitally interested in the collection who kept after the governmental agencies and officials until action was taken. He is Jean-François Dupont-Danican, whose interest stems from the fact that he is a great-great-great-great-grandson of André l'aîné. A retired captain of the French Merchant Marine who is now departmental delegate from Seine-Maritime to the Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer, Dupont-Danican is not a musician but a student of history, and intensely concerned with the musical heritage of which he is a scion. Among other interests he is President of the Société Pays de Caux, which is concerned with preservation of historical sites in the region of Normandy where he lives. He wrote to President Giscard d'Estaing, to Minister of Culture Jean-Philippe Lecat, to Norbert Dufourcq at the Conservatoire, and to François Lesure, conservateur en chef of the music section of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Mirabile dictu, it succeeded! The concerns of scholarship and the pride of national honor overcame the inertia of bureaucracy, and within three weeks Pierre Berès, a respected antiquarian and bookseller of Paris, was commissioned to attend the auction and bid for the Collection as agent for the Bibliothèque Nationale.


Heureux dénouement?—Réjouissance limitée

The announcement of the sale had specified that the Collection would be offered first as a complete unit; if the bids failed to reach the minimum acceptable to the seller, it would be offered in 98 lots, each lot consisting of one title or a group of like works. The latter possibility was the one most feared by scholars, since it would probably result in dispersal of the Collection. However, at 11:00 o'clock on the morning of June 26, M. Berès appeared at the auction galleries, submitted a statement that he was acting on behalf of the French authorities, and submitted a bid of 120,000 pounds for the Collection. The bid was accepted and in less than a quarter-hour the Toulouse-Philidor Collection had passed from St. Michael's College to the care of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

However, that proved to be only the first sale. The Bibliothèque Nationale decided not to retain the Collection intact, since many items duplicated holdings already in hand. On November 30, therefore, Berès acted as agent for the B.N. in disposing of those volumes of the Collection which were not retained. The Sotheby sale had been organized in "lots," to a total of 98. A lot might include one volume or several. Lot 36, for instance, consisted of one volume, the manuscript score of the pastorale héroique Issé by André Cardinal Destouches. Lot 46 consisted of the five-volume gradual and antiphonary noted above. Lot 59 consisted of the manuscript scores of Lully's Cadmus et Hermione and Alceste plus five volumes of vocal parts and four volumes of instrumental parts for the two works. The B.N. retained 30 lots from the Sotheby sale, for a total of 233 volumes of the 362 available. Most of these represented the manuscript part of the Collection, and therefore the scarcer or uniquely extant works. Since prices in Paris were from two to five times as much as those paid in London, it is likely that the B.N. realized a comfortable profit on the operation.

The names of buyers are not officially announced at the conclusion of sales in France, as is customarily done in England, so there is no possibility at the moment of knowing how widely the items not retained by the B.N. have been dispersed. That may prove to be an interesting bit of research for some future scholar.

1The method of acquisition of this cognomen or the reason for it have never been accepted wholeheartedly by even the most sanguine historians. La Borde, the first historian of the family, qualifies his presentation of it by stating, "On prétend que . . ." Ernest Thoinan advanced the supposition that the progenitor was a teetotaller, and as a result of his love for water a scholar termed him a "phil-d-eau-r." Jean-François Dupont-Danican (see below) has suggested that the name may derive from a corruption of the Gaelic filidheach, an adjective form of filidh, poet or musician, the hereditary bards of Scotland and Ireland. The latter supposition seems closer to reality than the presence at court of an unknown Italian musician whose very existence is not susceptible of proof.

2For the Philidor family, see the article in MGG, Vol. 10, cols. 1190-1200, by the present author. It may be noted that the genealogy there does not agree exactly with that of this article, which is the product of continued research. Paul Fromageot, Les Compositeurs de musique Versaillais (Versailles, 1906), and Marcelle Benoit, Versailles et les musiciens du Roi, 1661-1733 (Paris, 1971), discuss André l'aîné and his work.

3Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, comte de Toulouse (1678-1737), was the youngest of the seven natural children of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan, who became the King's official mistress in 1667. He was made Grand Admiral of France at the age of five, but despite his obvious handicaps (although he was later legitimated) he pursued a naval career and was generally held in respect by the people.

4Ouseley (1825-1889) was the author of three books on music theory and a minor composer as well as an Anglican divine. From 1855 he was professor of music at Oxford University. St. Michael's College was "built and partially endowed by him at very great cost" (Dictionary of National Biography) to train young boys in music for the Anglican service.

5There are listings of the Collection, including missing volumes, in "La Collection Philidor," La Chronique musicale, IV, No. 22 (May 15, 1874), 159-163, and No. 23 (June 1, 1874), 224-225; in J.W. Wasielewski, "Die Collection Philidors," Vierteljahrschrift für Musikwissenschaft, I (1885), 531-545; and in E.H. Fellowes, "The Philidor Manuscripts," Music and Letters, XII (April, 1931), 116-129. These do not agree in all details; however, the Fellowes article is the latest and most comprehensive and also the most reliable. Cf. also the catalogue printed by Sotheby's for the sale, and Eugène Gautier, Un Musicien en vacances (Paris, 1873), pp. 284-299.

6Complete lists of the contents of these volumes will be found in Fellowes, op. cit.

7The name has given a great deal of trouble to historians who have no previous experience with men named Anne. It was not commonly so used in France, but was favored by the dukes of Noailles, one of whom, Anne-Jules (mentioned above), was godfather for the boy and gave him his name.

8Marcelle Benoit, op. cit., p. 209. Those readers concerned about the application of the term classical to music of the 17th and early 18th centuries, cf. James Anthony's apologia for his use of the term baroque in his French Baroque Music (New York, 1974), pp. 3-4, and Norbert Dufourcq's review of the same work in Recherches sur la musique française classique, XVI, 1976, 203-4.

9Besides the Philidor Collection, 84 titles from the library of the College were sold at Sotheby's on June 26. Many of these were books collected by Sir Frederick Ouseley's father, Sir Gore Ouseley (1770-1844), a distinguished oriental scholar and diplomat. Among the items was a copy of the works of Cicero printed in Venice in 1583, which had been bought by Sir Gore Ouseley at a sale at Sotheby's in 1808.

8553 Last modified on November 9, 2018