Antoine Forqueray was the first major virtuoso of the bass viol, a favorite instrument of King Louis XIV. His surviving compositions are, likewise, the earliest important music for that instrument, technically demanding and possessing a piquant harmonic style.
Forqueray appeared before the king at the age of 10, playing the already-obsolescent "basse de violin." The king was delighted, and ordered the lad taught the bass viol. On December 31, 1689, he was appointed Musician ordinaire de la chambre du roy. Forqueray had a technique that astonished even violinists with its fluency. He entertained the king with Italian-style preludes. Forqueray also became a noted teacher of the high-born, including the Elector of Bavaria and the Duke of Orléans.
In 1697 he married Henriette-Angelique Houssou, a keyboard player and daughter of a church organist. The pair gave concerts, but the marriage was not a success. This might have been because of Forqueray's lavish way of life (he was well-paid by the king) and exaggerated, self-important and downright unpleasant personality. They separated permanently after 13 years, following a series of quarrels and shorter separations.
Around 1730 he retired to a country estate in Mantes, making infrequent appearances at court. He was listed as "veteran" member of the household, in effect retired at full pay, but with no duty to appear.
He treated his son, Jean-Baptiste Forqueray (1669-1682), horribly. He had him thrown into debtors' prison in 1719, and exiled in 1725. This son, also a great bassist, succeeded to his father's court position in 1742. Upon his father's death, Jean-Baptiste published a book of viol pieces: three of his own and 29 of his father's. Antoine Forqueray is primarily remembered for the music in that publication, and for a few other of his pieces that were published elsewhere and are less adventurous works.
© Joseph Stevenson, All Music Guide