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Didier Argentuille [1775-1820]


Too many blog entries lately concern recent acquisitions at the Community Collection. It’s time for a break from the visual arts — no bad place to linger, though, and I’m certain to be back — to explore another aspect of Agincourt’s cultural life: music.

Didier-Armand-Phillippe Argentuille [1775-1820]


By late summer 1895 as the new Auditorium neared completion, management had long since planned a gala opening season through the New Year’s holiday. Musical events of various types (both local talent and traveling troupes); public speakers, elocutionists, and lantern presentations; and of course the formal ceremonies of its dedication to the cultural expanse of community life. Among those events was the local premier of an 18th century French opera, “Philidor” by Didier Argentuille. The forces required, both cast and orchestra, were drawn from local talent, though reaching as far as Omaha for some participants. Who made the choice of an obscure work that, to anyone’s knowledge, had never been performed in the U.S., let alone in Iowa, isn’t recorded. Despite the Plantagenet‘s hyperbole, its review of the premier shouldn’t be taken as the presence of genuine High Culture.

How far can I push this allusion to an imaginary 18th century opéra comique? Particularly since 1) it’s been fifty years since I took a music appreciation course, and 2) I don’t actually read music. You’d have been amused by my proficiency with the French horn in our high school band.


By a remarkable coincidence, François-André Danican Philidor (1726-1795) was, besides being a prominent chess master, a prolific composer of opera and the last generation of a family integral with 18th century music in France. I just ordered a recording of his opera “Sancho Pança dans son isle— yes, that Sancho Panza. Argentuille would have been of the next generation, but its a start. I’m imagining a hybrid of Steve Martin’s play “Picasso at the Lapine Agile” and Samuel Barber’s chamber opera “A Hand of Bridge”, which crams more psychological introspection into nine minutes than I thought possible.

”Philidor” itself will never exist, and it’s libretto is almost as unlikely, though I might, just might conjure a snippet of dialogue that would constitute a duet between the two principals, Messrs Philidor and Franklin. That, I hope, is where Barber and Martin come into the picture: Barber’s librettist was Gian Carlo Menotti, and a finer writer of “book” for this plot is outside my experience. And Steve Martin’s talent for banter, the robust give and take between and among characters is what I need right now for stimulation.

Ultimately, of course, there will have been a performance and a review of same in the Plantagenet. Stay tuned.

A Bibliography of Sources and Influence:

  • ALLEN, George. The Life of Philidor, Musician and Chess-Player. (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1863).
  • BARBER, Samuel. A Hand of Bridge: For Four Solo Voices and Chamber Orchestra : [Op. 35]. (New York: G. Schirmer, 1960).
  • FRANKLIN, Benjamin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
  • MARTIN, Steve. “Picasso at the Lapine Agile”. (NY: Samuel French, 1993).


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