Claude-Benigne Balbastre

Image for artist

Claude-Benigne Balbastre


• 1724 1799


Born in 1722, Balbastre, whose name was also spelled "Balbâtre," studied with the organist Pierre Fevrier, also taking composition lessons from Rameau. Having established himself in Paris in the 1750s, Balbastre was a respected composer, attaining international fame as an organist. In 1776, Balbastre became organist to Monsieur, King Louis XVI's brother (who later became Louis XVIII). Balbastre played an important role in the musical life of the court of Louis XVI. In addition to serving as organist of the royal chapel, he gave harpsichord lessons to Queen Marie Antoinette. His students included the daughters of French and foreign notables, such as Thomas Jefferson. As an organist, Balbastre was enormously popular in Paris, and he drew huge crowds every year when he played his Noëls at Midnight Mass at the Church of St. Roch. Vexed by Balbastre's popularity, the Archbishop of Paris forbade him to play in 1762. Balbastre's career ended with the fall of the French monarchy, and he led a meager existence until his death in 1799, though he and his family kept their heads on their shoulders partly as Balbastre composed music in honor of the Revolution.

Balbastre's compositions include chamber works (sonates en quatuor) and music for keyboard. His elegant Pieces de clavecin, composed in 1759, successfully emulate François Couperin's sophisticated musical descriptions of certain characters and particular individuals. Essentially, Balbastre's music for keyboard reflects his versatility and familiarity with the dominant keyboard idioms of the late Baroque. While influences of such masters as Couperin and Scarlatti can be detected in his works, Balbastre nevertheless impresses the listener as a compellingly imaginative composer. In addition, Balbastre gained fame as an inventor, and contemporary sources credit him with the invention of a combined piano and organ, a single-keyboard instrument known as the "fortepiano organisé."