Composers Datebook®

Mouret's masterpiece?

Composers Datebook - Dec. 20, 2023


On today’s date in 1738, a once-successful French composer died destitute in an asylum of Charenton. It was a lamentable end for the 56-year-old Jean-Joseph Mouret, who had once served the French king at the Palais Royal and whose operas had once graced the stage of the Paris Opéra.

How ironic, then, that Mouret would achieve belated fame in 20th-century America when the “Rondeau” from his Symphonies and Fanfares for the King's Supper was chosen as the theme for the Masterpiece Theatre TV series on PBS. Christopher Sarson, the original executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre, recalls how this came about.

“In 1962, my future wife and I went to one of the Club Med villages in Italy. We were in these little straw huts and every morning we were summoned to breakfast by that theme. It was just magic. ... I wanted to use it for Masterpiece Theatre but there was no way I could bear to put a French piece of music on something that was supposed to be English. I went through all kinds of English composers and nothing worked. So, Mouret became the theme.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738) Rondeau; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; English Chamber Orchestra; Anthony Newman, cond. Sony 66244

On This Day


  • 1871 - American composer and conductor Henry Hadley, in Somerville, Massachusetts;

  • 1909 - Danish composer Vagn Holmboe, in Horsens, eastern Jutland;

  • 1938 - American composer and conductor John Harbison, in Orange, New Jersey;


  • 1738 - French composer Jean Joseph Mouret, age 56, in Charenton;

  • 1783 - Spanish composer and organist Padre Antonio Soler, age 54, at the monastery of El Escorial;

  • 1974 - French composer André Jolivet, age 69, in Paris;


  • 1721 - Handel: opera "Floridante" (Julian date: Dec. 9);

  • 1823 - Schubert: incidental music to "Rosamunde," in Vienna, at the Theater an der Wien;

  • 1879 - Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Suite No. 1, in Moscow (Julian date: Dec. 8);

  • 1886 - Brahms: Piano Trio No. 3 in c, Op. 101, in Budapest; The work was also presented in Vienna on February 26, 1887, by members of the Heckmann Quartet with the composer at the piano;

  • 1890 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 3, in Sat. Petersbur (Julian date: Dec. 8);

  • 1928 - Bloch: "America," in New York City;

  • 1959 - Stravinsky: "Double Canon (Raoul Dufy in memoriam)" in New York at Town Hall, during a Stravinsky Festival;

  • 1999 - Harbison: opera "The Great Gatsby," at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with a cast including Jerry Hadley as Gatsby and Dawn Upshaw as Daisy, with James Levine conducting;


  • 1775 - Mozart finishes his Violin Concerto No. 5 in A, K. 219, in Salzburg; The work was probably premiered soon after, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1915 - Stravinsky's public debut as a conductor, leading a performance of his "Firebird" Ballet Suite at a benefit concert organized by Diaghilev in Geneva, Switzerland;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®