Canzonette ed arie a voce sola di soprano col basso continuo
De Fesch, Willem
Willem De Fesch – Canzonette ed arie a voce sola di soprano col basso continuo (ca. 1730)
(Alkmaar, (baptised) 26 August 1687 – London, 3 January 1761)
The musical explorer Charles Burney called him a German, but in pre-national Europe, Willem De Fesch was a true cosmopolitan. His parents originated in Liège, but he was born in Alkmaar. He most likely received his education in Liège, then worked as a violinist in Amsterdam, was Kapellmeister in Antwerp and lived and worked in London for three decades. Therefore, his music has an international sound, influenced by Vivaldi, Corelli and Handel.
De Fesch was a student of the Liège-born violinist and composer Carl (Charles) Rogier (1640-1725), whose daughter Maria Anna, a singer, he married. Some sources also mention the Kapellmeister and composer Alphonse d’Eve as his teacher. Around 1710, De Fesch settled in Amsterdam, where both he and his wife worked at the Municipal Theatre and where De Fesch made a name for himself as a virtuoso violinist.
In 1725, he left Amsterdam for Antwerp, where he succeeded Alphonse d’Eve as Kapellmeister at the Cathedral of Our Lady. At the time, De Fesch already enjoyed a certain reputation in Antwerp after various violin performances in the theatre at the Tapissierspand (the Tapestry Market). His stay in the City of the Scheldt would not go unnoticed, although this was not just for musical reasons. Shortly after his performance he fell out with the cathedral organist Dieudonné Raick, and in the following years there were repeated mentions of incidents with choirboys and church singers, which in turn led to conflicts with the canons. De Fesch apparently had a mean character coupled with an irascible temperament, making his behaviour towards his church musicians anything but kind-hearted. In the cathedral archives mention is made of ‘multiple excesses committed by Mr De Fesch (…) hitting the choirboys’. In addition, he allegedly blackmailed singers into giving his wife gifts and he did not provide them with enough ‘food and drink’. De Fesch refused to apologise, let alone ask for forgiveness and decided, whether voluntarily or not, to leave the city.
In 1731, he went to London, which was one of the most important music centres at that time. There, he could fully develop his talents as a concert violinist, performing his own virtuoso compositions. From 1746 onwards, he was first violin in Handel’s orchestra and in 1748 and 1749 he led the orchestra of Marylebone Gardens himself. In addition, he was also successful as a composer on the other side of the channel. His oratorio Judith was performed in 1733 and was reprised seven years later, and in the middle of the 1740s he was successful with the pastoral serenade Love and friendship and with the oratorio Joseph, two pieces that were performed various times in the following years. In London, he also composed sonatas, concertos as well as songs to Italian and English texts. Some of these songs were used in theatre productions, like for example in the production of The Tempest in 1746 at the Drury Lane Theatre. Other songs were printed in journals like The London Magazine, The Universal Magazine and The Gentleman’s Magazine or were published separately as sheet music or in song anthologies. On top of that, he was also a renowned violin professor, being described as ‘a respectable professor on the violin’. From 1750 onwards, however, things go quiet: William De Fesch, as he was called in London, appeared to have withdrawn from public life. He died in London on 3 January 1761. … (Jan Dewilde)
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