The Teaching of Harmony and Composition in the French Conservatoire in the Nineteenth Century - the Importance and Influence of Reicha and Fétis

Author(s): 
Gloria Toplis
Volume: 
19
Year: 
2005
Material: 
Abstract: 

In 1818 Antoine Reicha was appointed teacher of counterpoint at the École Royale de Musique et de Déclamation. He was joined in 1821 by F-J. Fétis. At the time of their appointment each of these two composers brought to the École an established reputation as a teacher and a philosophy of teaching well considered, though the ideas and the musical repertoire which each called upon in his teaching differed from that of the other and of the teachers of composition of longstanding whom they joined at the École. Reicha and Fétis are rarely discussed in the same context. Fétis, from Belgium, a former pupil of the Paris Conservatoire who returned there as a teacher after working as an organist and schoolteacher elsewhere in France, was thoroughly steeped in the theoretical tradition of that country; the older and more travelled Reicha, educated in Bonn alongside his contemporary Beethoven and acquainted with Haydn during his years in Vienna, had direct experience of the musical traditions not only of Paris, but also of these two other important European centers. Reicha's compositions have survived alongside his theoretical writings whereas those of Fétis have been largely forgotten. His legacy consists of a wealth of critical writings and essays in musical history not confined to the music of western Europe, a comprehensive biographical dictionary, and an essay which is generally regarded as the first to document the history of harmonic theory. Reicha's writings on harmony and composition are characterised by an absence of dogma and a practical approach; those of Fétis owe even the ordering of their content to the theory of tonal relationships which their author developed.