François-Joseph Gossec (17 January 1734, Vergnies, Belgium – 16 February 1829, Passy, France) was a performing musician, a band and orchestra conductor, an organizer, a teacher, and a composer whose instrumental music became the model for succeeding generations of French composers. Many of his classical works pre-date those of his more famous contemporaries, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His symphony for band, which concludes with a chorus, was written 25 years before Beethoven’s choral symphony. His compositions for the larger wind bands of the late 18th century were among the first serious concert works for that medium.
Gossec's parents were poor, but they recognized his musical talent at an early age and placed him in a cathedral choir when he was seven. A few years later he was sent to the chapel of St. Pierre to receive instruction in violin, harpsichord, and harmony. At the age of 17 he went to Paris and through the assistance of Jean-Philippe Rameau, became conductor of the private orchestra of Alexandre de La Poupliniere. After his patron’s death in 1762, Gossec became the conductor of the orchestra of the Prince de Conde at Chantifly, where he remained for eight years. From about 1766 he also assisted with the music in the home of Louis-Francois de Bourbon, Prince de Conti. In 1770 he founded the Concert des Amateurs and three years later began conducting the orchestra of the Concert Spirituel. A victim of jealousy and gossip, Gossec was dismissed from the latter organization in 1777. He was the assistant director of the opera at the Academy of Music from 1780 to 1782 and in 1784 founded the Royal Singing School, becoming director when the schools were merged.
In 1789, Bernard Sarrette, an enterprising and music-minded captain in the national guard, became associated with the musicians in the guard and organized a band of 45 musicians. He retired on pension in 1791 and convinced the city of Paris officials to increase the band to 70 members, establish a free school of music, and employ the members as teachers. The school trained musicians for the 14 armies of the Republic, and Gossec was conductor of the excellent guard band for a time. In 1795 the school became the Paris Conservatory, and Gossec served as an inspector and a teacher of composition—he also helped write several texts on harmony, solfege, and counterpoint. He remained active as a composer, teacher, consultant, and sympathizer with the causes of the Republic.
Gossec was a prolific and progressive composer. Many of his classical works pre-date those of his more famous contemporaries, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His symphony for band, which concludes with a chorus, was written 25 years before Beethoven’s choral symphony. His compositions for the larger wind bands of the late 18th century were among the first serious concert works for that medium. His music includes about 26 symphonies, 15 operas and oratorios, a number of ballets, intermezzos, pastorales, divertissements, chamber works, incidental music, and several sacred or secular compositions for choir, choir and band, and band alone. When he founded the Concert des Amateurs in 1770, the orchestra instrumentation comprised two violin parts, viola, bass, two oboes, and two horns. By the time he wrote his Symphony No.21 in D, Gossec had added parts for cello, two clarinets, flute, two bassoons, two trumpets, and timpani. His innovative works for Revolutionary festivals and funeral processions include the Te Deum for 1,200 singers and 300 wind instruments as well as the following compositions for wind band: Military Symphony in F (1793-1794), Symphony (Overture) in C (1794-1795), Marche Lugubre (1793), Marche Religieuse (1793), Marche in C (1794), Marche Funebre in E-flat (1794), March Religieuse in E-flat (1794), Marche Victorieuse in F (1794), and Marche des Marseillois, arranged for band.
Works for Winds
- Classic Overture in C
- Funeral March (Gossec)
- Military Symphony in F (arr. Goldman) (1793/1950)
- Simphonie Militaire (arr. Amis) (1793/2013)
- Miles, Richard B., and Larry Blocher. 2002. Teaching Music Through Performance in Band. Volume 4. Chicago: GIA Publications. pp. 336.
- Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications, pp. 241.