The Kennedy Center

Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac


Born in Muret in 1753, Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac  was a French composer. He was trained as a lawyer before turning to music as a career, and was fortunate in attracting the patronage of Marie Antoinette before the Revolution and that of Napoleon later. He composed nearly 60 opéras comiques, which were hugely successful in the 1790s. He was obliged to spell his name in a non-aristocratic fashion (rather than D'Alayrac).  An inheritor of the tradition of Grétry, he similarly set a range of dramatic subjects--from historical romance to Gothic fantasy to lighthearted comic intrigue--and cultivated an increasingly lyrical, Italianate melodic style. His operas reveal careful dramatic planning, and his use of recurring themes and motifs frequently creates conceptual and musical unity within a work. In Deux mots, ou Une nuit dans la forêt ( 1806 ), for example, the fragment of a romance returns in different guises and comes to represent the voice of the mute heroine, functioning as a warning signal to the hero in its final appearance. Dalayrac was also a resourceful orchestrator. Among his most popular operas were Nina, ou La Folle par amour ( 1786 ), Raoul sire de Créqui ( 1789 ), Camille, ou Le Souterrain ( 1791 ), and Maison à vendre ( 1800 ). His other works include violin duos, string quartets, trios, instrumental overtures, and songs.
The orchestration of Dalayrac's operas is resourceful rather than brilliant. Woodwind solos are favoured, particularly those for bassoon, and muted strings are often found in romances.  Lina (1807) provides perhaps the first printed indication anywhere in a full score of soft-ended timpani sticks. In Léhémanoffstage trumpet-calls in the first finale announce the capture of Léhéman's ally by enemy troops. This ‘warning' technique was afterwards used by Méhul in Héléna, and subsequently by Beethoven in Fidelio.
Dalayrac's only published writing was Réponse de M. Dalairac à MM les directeurs de Spectacles(Paris, 1791); he left some unpublished, including ‘La folle de St Joseph: anecdote qui a fourni le sujet de Nina, ou La folle par amour'.  Dalayrac died in Paris in 1809.
Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac