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Louis Niedermeyer

April 27, 1802 - March 14, 1861
born in Nyon, Switzerland, composed during the Romantic period
A failed opera composer, Louis Niedermeyer ultimately became a modestly successful composer of vocal music and influential music educator, along the way bringing the French art song into the Romantic era and setting the stage for the first generation of great mélodie composers. At the same time, he strongly advocated the study and emulation of traditional church music, from Gregorian chant through Renaissance polyphony.

Niedermeyer was born in Switzerland, but spent little of his life there. When he was 15 he went to Vienna to study piano with Ignaz Moscheles and composition with E.A. Förster. Two years later, in 1819, he was off to Italy for study with minor figures in Rome and Naples; in Italy he became enamored of Renaissance choral writing, at the same time coming under the personal influence of Rossini. Through the latter's connections, Niedermeyer's first opera, Il reo per amore, was produced there in 1820, and it would be one of his few relative successes on the stage. The next three years found him teaching piano and writing songs in Geneva; in 1823 he moved to Paris, where he remained for the rest of his life except for an 1834-1836 stint teaching piano in Brussels.

Rossini, too, had settled in Paris, and again he used his influence to have Niedermeyer's latest operas produced. They all failed, however; ultimately, Niedermeyer found it wise to turn his attention to sacred music and art songs. In 1853 he took over a languishing school of church music and renamed it after himself. He turned it into a general music conservatory with a strong emphasis on the study of plainchant. Gabriel Fauré was one of its early pupils, and it was there that he developed his interest in modal harmony.

Niedermeyer published treatises and periodicals on early church music, but he did not withdraw entirely into musicology and education. He continued to compose, helping to foster a distinctly French style of art song that in another generation would develop into the fluid mélodie as mastered by the likes of Duparc and Fauré. Interestingly, some of this art song writing found its way into Niedermeyer's sacred music, though in a manner that seemed more akin to that of the Italian Renaissance. Vocal polyphony also remained a keen interest of his to the end. ~ James Reel, Rovi
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