Pierre Beaumarchais

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Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (January 24, 1732May 18, 1799) was, among other accomplishments, a writer and librettist.

Born Pierre-Augustin Caron in Paris, he changed his surname to "Caron de Beaumarchais" in 1757, in reference to land inherited by his wife.

Though Beaumarchais is perhaps best known as writer of the comedies on which Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro were based, he was also an accomplished musician, watch-maker, secret agent, architect, politician, inventor, arms dealer, and more.

In 1759 he became the harp tutor of King Louis XV's daughter and he subsequently acquired a position as Secretary to the King. He was later appointed master of the King's hunt.

He was among the major supporters in France of American Independence and he commissioned a private fleet in 1776 to support the rebels in the War of Independence.

The Barber of Seville premiered in 1775. Its sequel The Marriage of Figaro was initially passed by the censor in 1781, but was soon banned from performance by Louis XVI after a private reading. The King was unhappy with the play's satire on the aristocracy. Over the next three years Beaumarchais gave many private readings of the play, as well as making revisions to try to pass the censor. The King lifted the ban in 1784. The play premiered that year and was enormously popular even with aristocratic audiences. Mozart's opera premiered just two years later.

It is generally admitted that Beaumarchais was not republican, but his writings contributed to an acceleration of the events which led to the Revolution. Following the revolution, Beaumarchais fell out of favour during the Convention period and moved into exile in Hamburg, Germany. He returned to France wrote his memoirs in a pamphlet in 1796.

His other works include Eugnie (1767), Les Deux Amis (1770), an opera libretto, Tarare (1787), which was set to music by Antonio Salieri, and the comedy La Mre coupable (1792), the third part of the Figaro-trilogy.

He died of apoplexy related to long-term excessive drinking, and is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

Further Reading

  • "Beaumarchais and the American Revolution" by Brian N. Morton
  • "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life - 1500 to Present" by Jacques Barzun

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