Composer and cellist Joseph Arquier lived in New Orleans between 1800 and 1804.
French composer and cellist Joseph Arquier moved in 1800 to New Orleans, where he enjoyed brief success in the city’s cultural circle until 1804. According to nineteenth-century European writers, his opera, Le désert ou l’oasis, is believed to have been performed in New Orleans in 1802.
Arquier was born in Toulon, France, in 1763. After completing his studies in Marseilles in 1781, he accepted a position in Lyon in 1784 as a cellist. He returned to Marseilles in 1789. In 1790 he accepted the position of assistant chef d’orchestra of the Academia Royal de musique and as a cellist at the Theatre Molière in Paris. In 1792 two operas—L’Amant jaloux and Tableau parlant—resulted from interest in his works on the part of the Opera Comique and fellow composer André Ernest Gretry, whose Sylvain was the first opera performed in New Orleans, in 1796. As a composer and musician, Arquier earned an excellent reputation. His free-flowing melodies were characterized as gracious, with a light and brilliant accompaniment, and he was considered to be very sensitive to the demands of theatrical works.
Upon his return to France after his four-year sojourn in New Orleans, Arquier worked in Paris, Toulouse, Marseilles, and Perpignan. Although he did compose some sacred music (a manuscript of his Mass is in the Bibliothèque municipal de Lyon), the majority of his music was comic opera. His works were best known in provincial cities; however, the libretto for Le pot au noire et le pot aux roses ou Daphnhis et Hortense—which premiered in Marseilles on February 19, 1789—was published the same year in London (and a copy exists in the library of the University of Warwick). Among his other operas are L’Indienne (1788), Le pirate (1789), Le Marí corrigé (1790), Le Congé (1793), Marie-Christine ou la tigresse du Nord, Paris (1793), Les Péruviens (1798), L’ermitage des Pyrénées (1800), Deux petits troubadours (1800), Le Fée Urgele (1804), La suite du medicin turc (1810), and Zipéa (1815). While his works appear to remain unpublished, nineteenth-century critics remembered Arquier as an eminent dramatic composer and cellist. He died in Bordeaux in 1816.