Querelle des Bouffons

Querelle des Bouffons. The Querelle des Bouffons, a controversy over the respective merits of French and Italian music, particularly opera, was sparked off by the performances given in Paris in 1752 by a small troupe of Italian comic actors, or buffoni (French: bouffons). They introduced Parisian audiences to the then very popular opera buffa genre, in the form of comic interludes (intermezzi) – notably Pergolesi's La serva padrona – intended for performance between the acts of opere serie. Critics of grand opera, led by the philosophes and the writers associated with the Encyclopédie, took advantage of the excitement generated by these works to condemn French opera, which they considered outmoded and grandiloquent in its texts, music and style of performance. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot, Friedrich Melchior Grimm and Baron d’Holbach were the great agitators in this (theoretical more than artistic) dispute. At the Opéra, the devotees of French music gathered beneath the king’s box, while the followers of Italian music gathered beneath the queen’s. The Académie royale, in support of its side, presented various successful works representative of French style, such as Les Fêtes grecques et romaines by Colin de Blamont and Titon et l’Aurore by Mondonville, and it backed the indisputable figures of Rameau and the singers Jélyotte and Mlle Fel. The quarrel came to an end with the departure of the Bouffons in 1754. While favouring the emergence of opéra-comique – works such as Rousseau’s Le Devin du Village (1752) and Dauvergne’s Les Troqueurs (1753) – it revived the discussions between supporters of French music and those of Italian music that had been going on for almost a century. Following this key episode, Francœur and Rebel, directors of the Opéra from 1757 to 1767, continued to maintain the old repertoire (especially the works of Lully), while admitting the house modern authors such as Monsigny (Aline reine de Golconde) and Philidor (Ernelinde princesse de Norvège).