Alexandre Pierre Francois Boely

Alexandre Pierre Francois Boely


• 1785 1858


Alexandre Pierre François Boëly was an important though not major French composer from the early nineteenth century, producing a substantial output of piano, organ, and chamber works, as well as a handful of significant sacred and vocal compositions. Boëly was born into an affluent family, his father a countertenor at Saint-Chapelle in Paris and harpist and teacher at the Versailles Court. Young Alexandre received his first musical instruction from his father, and then enrolled at the Paris Conservatory in 1796 to study violin and piano. He abandoned his studies there, however, before attaining a degree so he could launch a career as an organist and pianist.

Over the next three decades he was quite active in composition, turning out such works as the two sonatas of Opus 1 (published in 1810), two sonatas for violin and piano (Opus 32, ca. 1805, published in 1857), and numerous other works that included chamber and organ pieces. Much of his music was not published in his lifetime, but with Opp. 23 through 56, nearly two-thirds of his entire output, published after his death.

Boëly seems to be one of those luckless figures in music, a man with unusual talent who gained relatively little recognition in his lifetime. His first major position did not come until 1834 when he began a four-year stint at St. Gervais-St. Protias in Paris, and only then as a provisional organist. He finally received a prestigious post when he was appointed organist at St. Germain-l'Auxerrois in Paris in 1840. Four years later, he composed his Two Messes Brèves, Opp. 25 and 26, counted among his most important compositions in any genre.

Boëly began teaching piano at the Notre Dame Cathedral Choir School beginning around 1845. His generally conservative tastes and advocacy for the music of Couperin, Frescobaldi, and J.S. Bach eventually alienated those sympathetic to more progressive musical styles (i.e., those of the Romantic school). Thus, despite his recognized virtuosity on the organ, he was dismissed from St. Germain-l'Auxerrois in 1851. Having left his post about a year before at Notre Dame, Boëly spent the remainder of his life primarily as a piano teacher.