Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (December 8, 1724 – May 9, 1799) was a French composer, organist, harpsichordist and fortepianist. He was one of the most famous musicians of his time.
Born in Dijon in 1724 where his father, Bénigne, a church organist in Dijon, had 18 children from two marriages; Claude was the 16th. He received his first music lessons from his father, then became a pupil of Claude Rameau, the younger brother of Jean-Philippe Rameau, the most famous French musician at the time and also a native of Dijon.
Balbastre settled in Paris in 1750 and studied there with Pierre Février, whom he succeeded as organist of the Saint Roch church. Jean-Philippe Rameau helped and protected Balbastre when he settled in the city, so Balbastre was quickly and efficiently introduced to the Parisian musical circles and high society, and made a brilliant career. He became organist of the Notre-Dame in 1782 and of the Chapelle Royale. He was harpsichordist to the French royal court where he taught queen Marie-Antoinette, and became organist for the Count of Provence, who later became Louis XVIII, King of France. Balbastre's fame was so great that the Archbishop of Paris, Christophe de Beaumont had to forbid him to play at Saint Roch during some of the services, because the churches were always crowded when Balbastre played.
An account of one of these services at Saint Roch is provided by Dr Charles Burney who recounts that, on Sunday 17 June 1770, he left a dinner early in order to hear the "celebrated" Balbastre play the organ at Saint Roch. He "performed in all styles in accompanying the choir. When the Magnificat was sung, he played likewise between each verse several minuets, fugues, imitations, and every species of music, even to hunting pieces and jigs, without surprising or offending the congregation, as far as I was able to discover."
This exciting little fugue is dedicated to our fine member, yolar. I hope you like it, Ralph!
Score & photos attached below.