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François André Philidor: chess master and composer

Updated on May 1, 2015

The Philidor family

There were three generations of musical Philidors, covering the period from around 1600 to 1800. They were largely instrumentalists at the courts of the French kings Louis XIV and XV, with their favourite instruments being the cromorne (a sort of oboe) and the tromba marina (a large single-stringed bowed instrument), although it is known that there were Phildor drummers, violinists and fife players.

As many as 14 Philidors have been identified by name, but it is probable that several others had musical talents.

François André Philidor
François André Philidor

François André Philidor

François André Philidor was the most renowned member of the family. He was born at Dreux (in the Eure-et-Loire region west of Paris) in 1726.

He first came to public attention as a highly talented chess player, and toured as a virtuoso at the game before he was 20. As a young man he once played a game against the American ambassador to France, one Benjamin Franklin.

He often visited London, where the Chess Club eventually gave him a regular pension. He took on all sorts of challenges, including simultaneous matches against three opponents, Philidor being blindfolded.

His musical ability was not inconsiderable, and for a time he earned a living as a music teacher and copyist. When in London he heard the oratorios of Handel and began to compose similar works of his own.

He later turned to comic opera and produced a series of highly successful works in Paris. His place in the history of opera stems from his innovative use of dramatic ensembles.

The French Revolution forced Philidor to flee Paris for London, which is where he died in 1795.

François André Philidor playing an exhibition chess match while blindfolded
François André Philidor playing an exhibition chess match while blindfolded

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