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 Nicolas Bochsa

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Nicolas Bochsa

  • Birth 9 Aug 1789 Montmedy, Departement de la Meuse, Lorraine, France
  • Death 6 Jan 1856 Sydney, City of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Burial Newtown, City of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Memorial ID 22202218

Harpist, Composer. One of the foremost 19th Century masters of the harp, he greatly expanded its technical and expressive range. He was also a talented composer, but his accomplishments have been overshadowed by his eccentric and scandal-tainted life. Robert Nicolas Charles Bochsa was born in Montmedy, France, the son of a musician. A child prodigy, he learned to play several instruments with the opera orchestra of Lyon and composed a symphony at age 12. His opera "Trajan" (1805), dedicated to Napoleon, so impressed the emperor he was awarded a scholarship at the Paris Conservatory, where he began to focus on the harp. When instrument builder Sebastian Erard introduced his innovative double-action pedal harp in 1810, Bochsa raced to study its possibilities and published his findings in "A New and Improved Method of Instruction" (1811). The first treatise on modern harp playing, it helped launch an international craze for the instrument. He then served Napoleon as official harpist during the waning days of his regime. After the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814, Bochsa quickly switched allegiances and wrote an impressive Requiem for the reburial of Louis XVI, who had been executed during the Revolution. It was performed throughout the country and won him an appointment as court musician to Louis XVIII. Royal patronage failed to protect him when he was charged with forgery in 1817, and he escaped to London; convicted in absentia, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In England Bochsa had a fan in King George IV and he used this influence to help found the Royal Academy of Music in 1822, serving as its first general secretary and professor of harp. He was forced to resign from both posts after his criminal record was exposed in 1827, but he rebounded as conductor of the King's Theatre and as a virtuoso recitalist. Critics loathed his unabashed showmanship - he filled his programs with transcriptions of popular music and even took requests - but audiences found him charming. In 1839 Bochsa was on the run again, after eloping with opera soprano Anna Bishop, the wife of composer Henry Rowley Bishop. The couple toured Continental Europe (prudently steering clear of France), spent several years in Italy, and visited the United States and Mexico. All the while Bochsa falsely billed himself as "Royal Harpist to Queen Victoria". He fell ill with dropsy on a voyage to Australia in late 1855, and died in Sydney after giving only one concert there. His elaborate tomb at Camperdown Cemetery, which featured a statue of Bishop mourning over an abandoned harp, has suffered considerable damage over the years. Bochsa's hundreds of harp pieces were enormously influential in their time but are seldom heard today.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 14 Oct 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 22202218
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Nicolas Bochsa (9 Aug 1789–6 Jan 1856), Find A Grave Memorial no. 22202218, citing Camperdown Cemetery, Newtown, City of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia ; Maintained by Find A Grave .