Antoine Boësset

picture of Antoine Boësset
Antoine Boësset, Sieur de Villedieu

Antoine Boësset, Sieur de Villedieu, was a French composer born in Blois, baptised on 24 February 1587 and died in Paris on 8 December 1643. He dominated musical life at the French court during the first half of the 17th century.
He married in 1613 Jeanne Guédron , daughter of Pierre Guédron, Superintendent of Music of the King’s Chamber.

De Boësset was promoted to the post of “Maître de musique de la chambre du roi” in 1613, and in 1617 to “Maître de musique de la reine”, in 1620 to Chamber Secretary of the King, and in 1623 to Superintendent of the music of the chambre du roi. In 1634 he became adviser and “maître d’hôtel ordinaire du roi”. He was able to hold the most important offices until his death.

He is known as one of the composers of Air de Cour, published in 1608 in a collection with works by other composers. 200 four- to five-part airs were published in nine volumes with a lute tabulature. In his function at court he created more than 20 ballet scores.

picture of Constantijn Huygens
Constantijn Huygens

He was in contact with René Descartes, Marin Mersenne (who cites him as a master of vocal ornamentation and an example for all young musicians to follow) and Constantijn Huygens.

In his seventh collection of songs, published in 1630, he used the term “basso continuo” for the first time in France. Unusual for the 17th century, the publisher Ballard published a collection of polyphonic arias (Airs polyphoniques) in 1689, 46 years after Boësset’s death.

Boësset’s work is considerable and involved multiple forms, both secular (court arias, ballet arias) and sacred (masses, motets, magnificats) or spiritual. He is one of the three major composers of the first age of the court aria, situated chronologically between the other two (Pierre Guédron and Étienne Moulinié).

From 1608 (when an aria from his hand first appeared in a collection by Pierre I Ballard) to 1643, his production in this genre is intense (almost 200 arias for four and five voices, many of them also reduced for voice and lute), and of great quality both for the melodic inspiration and for the harmonic richness. His treatment of the texts often gives them a dramatic value, a varied if not contrasting expressiveness.

picture of boesset signatur
Boësset’s signatur
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