François-André Danican Philidor

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Philidor after an engraving from 1772

François-André Danican Philidor (called: André Danican Philidor "the Younger") (born September 7, 1726 in Dreux , †  August 31, 1795 in London ) was a French composer and was considered the best chess player in the world during his lifetime .

Nowadays the memory of his musical work has faded, but he is world-famous as a pioneering thinker of modern chess. A chess opening, the Philidor Defense , is named after him. A defense method in rook endgame also bears his name.


Family of musicians

The original name of the family was Danican (D'Anican), they were of Scottish descent (Duncan). Philidor came from a family of musicians, his grandfather Jean Danican Philidor (approx. 1620–1679) was a musician of the Grande Écurie in Paris. 'Philidor' is a later unexplained addition to his name. It is reported that Michel Danican , probably Philidor's great-uncle, through his play Louis XIII. made him exclaim that he reminded him of an Italian oboist named Filidori. His father André Danican Philidor (called Philidor l'aîné ) (1647–1730) was also initially employed in the Grande Écurie , then at court, in the chapel of Louis XIV . Both ancestors of Philidor were composers, but no works by Jean Danican Philidor have survived. The playing of Philidor's father ( timpani , oboe, krummhorn , trumscheit and bassoon ) was approved by Louis XIV , as can be deduced from the favor given.

Philidor's eldest brother Anne Danican Philidor (1681–1728) went down in musical history as the founder of the Concert Spirituel , a periodic public concert from 1725 to 1791.

Philidor comes from his father's second marriage. He is the third child from this connection (Elisabeth Le Roy got married in 1719 at the age of 19); his father was 79 when Philidor was born and died four years later. The importance of André Danican Philidor for posterity lay not in his compositions, but in his passion for collecting and copying for the royal music archives. Thanks to his decades of effort, a wealth of material has been preserved that this musical era can prove with compositions.

Youth in Versailles and Paris

Title page of the Analysis of the Échecs (first edition 1749)

Philidor began his musical career at the age of 6: he became a page of the Versailles Chapel , where he was introduced to the basics of music (by the conductor) and chess (by the musicians). At the age of 12 he was able to present his first composition, a motet . Louis XV was so delighted with the child prodigy's achievement that he gave him five Louis d'or for it.

In 1740 Philidor left the chapel and took up residence in Paris, where he initially worked as a music teacher and music copier. But soon he came into contact with the Café de la Régence . There he became a student of François Antoine de Legall , who worked as a professional player in the Café de la Régence. Due to the fact that Philidor was employed as a regular guest and player in the Cafe de la Regence, it happened that he was there with many educators such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Voltaire and Denis Diderot . Philidor had a long friendship with the latter. Diderot's and Philidor's families met regularly.

Initially, Philidor received instructions , but within a short time the youngster proved to be superior to his teacher. From then on, chess was a passionate activity of Philidor, which distracted him from his music studies, but he did not forget to compose. In addition to other composed motets, in 1745 he helped Jean-Jacques Rousseau to complete his opera ballet Les muses galantes .

Netherlands, England, Prussia

A failed music tour through Europe left Philidor stranded in the Netherlands in the mid-1740s. He tried to get by with the professional chess game in The Hague and met English officers who persuaded him to move to London. In London he met Abraham Janssen (1720-1795) and the famous Syrian Philipp Stamma , whom he defeated in 1747 in a competition in ten games with 8-2. He returned to the mainland, where he became acquainted with the commander-in-chief of the English troops in Holland, Wilhelm August, Duke of Cumberland . He became one of Philidor's most important supporters in the future. In 1749 and 1751 he was a guest in Potsdam at the court of Frederick II , who valued him both as a composer and as the best chess player of his time. In Berlin, Philidor, a sensation at the time, played blind chess on three boards at the same time .

Philidor had previously published his chess textbook, which was later reprinted many times, in French in London in 1749. L 'Analysis des Échecs (the title was later varied) had the most lasting influence on the development of the game of chess. In the book he described the theoretical basics of positional play. Among other things, he emphasized the importance of the pawn structure in particular: "The pawns are the soul of the game of chess", this is the most famous saying of Philidor about the game of chess.

Back in Paris

Bust of Philidor on the facade of the Opéra Garnier

From 1754 Philidor lived again in Paris and composed mainly operas. From 1759 to 1765 he performed 11 operas, eight of them were great successes. His most famous opera comique was Tom Jones (1765), a Henry Fielding adaptation of his most famous novel Tom Jones: The Story of a Foundling . It was recently performed again in Hagen in April 2004 .

His tragic opera Ernelinde, princesse de Norvège (1767) and his Requiem from 1764 on the second anniversary of Jean Philippe Rameau's death are also of great importance .

Stays in London

In 1770 a chess club was founded in the "Salopian Coffee House" in Charing Cross , whose members offered Philidor to spend the annual season from February to June with them in London for an annual fee. Eager for new chess matches, Philidor accepted the materially interesting offer. In 1772 and 1773 he returned to the "Salopian"; then he moved to the “London Chess Club”, which gathered in “Parsloe's”, an inn on St. James's Street. From then on Philidor stayed in London for several months each year. As a permanently employed professional player of the house, he was available to the club as a chess teacher; he gave blind chess performances, played for bets against visitors and gave music lessons on the side.

In 1771 Philidor went to London again to a. to visit the musician and music historian Charles Burney . On the way back he brought some of his works with him for his old friend Denis Diderot to appraise. Conversely, Diderot used himself for Philidor to support his request to find a good translator into English for his work L 'Analysis des Échecs (1749) through Burney. So Diderot wrote a letter of recommendation for Philidor , in which he expressed his high opinion and appreciation for his old friend Philidor.

This happened until 1792, when the Revolutionary War also hit England and France. Philidor was now stuck in England and in the end was not allowed to return to Paris for political reasons. He died on August 31, 1795 in London and was buried on September 3, 1795 at St. James' Church in London in Piccadilly .

Among Philidor's notable opponents in the last years of his life were Verdoni , who was to succeed him as a professional player in "Parsloe's", and the mathematician George Atwood . He left for posterity a number of records of the games played by Philidor and his contemporaries.

Significance for chess

Philidor 1749
  a b c d e f G H  
8th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess kdt45.svg Chess rdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess rdt45.svg 8th
7th Chess pdt45.svg Chess pdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess ndt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 7th
6th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess pdt45.svg Chess bdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess qdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg 6th
5 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess pdt45.svg Chess pdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess pdt45.svg 5
4th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess plt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 4th
3 Chess --t45.svg Chess blt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess plt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess rlt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 3
2 Chess plt45.svg Chess plt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess nlt45.svg Chess qlt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess plt45.svg Chess plt45.svg 2
1 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess rlt45.svg Chess klt45.svg Chess --t45.svg 1
  a b c d e f G H  

Diagram 1: Black to move

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Philidor 1749
  a b c d e f G H  
8th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess kdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 8th
7th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess rdt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 7th
6th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess klt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 6th
5 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess blt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 5
4th Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 4th
3 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 3
2 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 2
1 Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess rlt45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg Chess --t45.svg 1
  a b c d e f G H  

Diagram 2: White to move wins

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Philidor's work L 'analyze du jeu des échecs occupies a prominent position in chess literature . The book is considered to be the foundation of chess strategy , especially because of its explanations on pawn management . It also contains the first known example of a purely positional pawn sacrifice in the middle game (Diagram 1).

Philidor recommended 1.… e5 – e4 2. d3xe4 d5 – d4. For the sacrificed pawn Black will receive a passed pawn on the d-line and the strong field e5 square for his knight. The position is then in a dynamic equilibrium with good chances for Black.

In the field of endgames , too , Philidor achieved groundbreaking analyzes that withstood all subsequent tests and became an integral part of endgame theory.

Philidor proved that the position in Diagram 2 has been won. His variant was: 1. Rc1 – c8 + Rd7 – d8 2. Rc8 – c7 Rd8 – d2 3. Rc7 – b7 Rd2 – d1 4. Rb7 – g7 Rd1 – f1 5. Be5 – g3 Rf1 – f3 6. Bg3 – d6 Rf3 –E3 + 7. Bd6 – e5 Re3 – f3 8. Rg7 – e7 + Ke8 – d8 9. Re7 – b7 and mate on b8, because the c3-square is not accessible to Black's rook.

In the area of ​​the opening , the Philidor defense goes back to him. It arises after the moves 1. e2 – e4 e7 – e5 2. Ng1 – f3 d7 – d6. Philidor was of the opinion that bringing out the Springer early would hinder pawn development. For this reason he favored the move 2. Bf1 – c4 for White instead of 2. Ng1 – f3. The runner game was in following the teachings Philidor a dominant opening until the 19th century again the King's Knight Opening prevailed.

Quotes about Philidor

“Ask the greatest chess player who currently exists (as is well known the Musicus Philidor in France, who plays with four great masters at the same time and wins the game for everyone if they let him start, and composes an aria in between, which Madam Brochard may do in Maynz the victory over Hellmuth could take off), he will tell you the good thing. "

- Wilhelm Heinse in a letter to Friedrich Maximilian Klinger , place and date unknown

Work editions

Compositions (selection)

Operas :

  • Le diable à quatre (1756)
  • Blaise le savetier (1759)
  • L'huître et les plaideurs (1759)
  • Le quiproquo ou Le volage fixé (1759)
  • Le soldat magicien (1760)
  • Le jardinier et son seigneur (1761)
  • Le maréchal-ferrant (1761)
  • Sancho Pança dans son île (1762)
  • Le bûcheron ou Les trois souhaits (1763)
  • Le sorcier (1764)
  • Tom Jones (1765)
  • Ernelinde, princesse de Norvège (1767)
  • Le jardinier de Sidon (1768)
  • L'amant déguisé ou Le jardinier supposé (1769)
  • La nouvelle école des femmes (1770)
  • Herne le chasseur (1773)
  • Le puits d'amour (1779)
  • L'amitié au village (1785)
  • Thémistocle (1786)
  • La belle esclave (1788)
  • Bélisaire (published in 1796)

Vocal music :

  • Motets
  • Aria for Rousseau's Le devin de village (1763)
  • Requiem for Rameau (1764)
  • Te Deum (1786)

Instrumental music :

  • L'Art de la modulation, 6 quartets for oboe (or flute or violin), 2 violins and harpsichord (1755)

Discography (selection)

  • Tom Jones , Sébastien Droy, Sophie Marin-Degor, Marc Barrard, Sibyl Zanganelli, Lausanne Sinfonietta, Jean-Claude Malgoire, 2006, Dynamic / Klassik-Center 509 / 1-2 (2 CDs) ( review by
  • Carmen Saeculaire, Symphony No. 27 in G major, Le marechal ferrant: Overture, Le sorcier: Overture, Tom Jones: Overture , Svizzera Italiana Orchestra, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Jean-Claude Malgoire, Christian Benda, 2007. Naxos Nx 855759394 (2 CDs)


Web links

Commons : François-André Danican Philidor  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Wolfgang Anetsberger: Forget Mozart! Successful composers of Mozart's time. Piper, Munich / Zurich, ISBN 978-3-492-25109-9 , p. 128.
  2. Markus Jakobi: Chess in the Age of Enlightenment . ( Memento from November 9, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 22.42 kB) Lecture given on November 1 and 2, 2003 as part of the event “Wiesbaden Hafa offers chess”. Philidor's biography up to the outbreak of the French Revolution.
  3. ^ Philidor's famous remark (CN 5560)
  4. Wolfgang Anetsberger: Forget Mozart! Successful composers of Mozart's time. Piper, Munich / Zurich, ISBN 978-3-492-25109-9 , p. 128.
  5. ^ HJR Murray in a letter dated August 4, 1932, quoted from Edward Winter , Chess Notes 6000: 6000. Murray letter on Philidor
  6. ^ G. Walker: A Selection of Games at Chess, Actually Played by Philidor and His Contemporaries . P. 12ff.