Nicolas-Charles Bochsa

Robert Nicolas-Charles Bochsa (9 August 1789 – 6 January 1856) was a harpist and composer. His relationship with Anna Bishop was popularly thought to have inspired that of Svengali and Trilby in George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby.[1]

Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, 1842


The son of a Bohemian-born musician, Karl Bochsa (de), Bochsa was born in Montmédy, Meuse, France.[2] He was able to play the flute and piano by the age of seven. In 1807, he went to study at the Paris Conservatoire. He was appointed harpist to the Imperial Orchestra in 1813, and began writing operas for the Opéra-Comique. However, in 1817 he became entangled in counterfeiting, fraud, and forgery, and fled to London to avoid prosecution. He was convicted in absentia, and sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 francs.[3]

Safe from French law in London, he helped found the Royal Academy of Music in 1821, and became its secretary. He taught there, amongst others, the British harp virtuoso Elias Parish Alvars. When his criminal conviction was revealed in 1826, he was forced to resign. He then became Musical Director of the Kings Theatre in London.

Bochsa's grave in Camperdown Cemetery, Sydney

In 1839, he became involved in another scandal when he ran off with the opera singer Anna Bishop, wife of the composer Henry Bishop. They performed together in North America and throughout Europe (except France). In Naples Bochsa was appointed Director of the Regio Teatro San Carlo, (the Royal Opera House) and stayed there for two years.

Bochsa arrived with Anna Bishop in Sydney, Australia, at the time of the gold rush in December 1855, but they gave only one concert together before Bochsa died. Bishop was heartbroken, and commissioned an elaborate tomb for him in Camperdown Cemetery.


  • Le Retour de Trajan, ou, Rome triomphante
  • Les Héritiers Michau, ou Le Moulin de Lieursain
  • L'Héritier de Paimpol
  • Le Roi et la ligue
  • Les Noces de Gamache
  • La Lettre de change (English: The Promissory Note; German: Der Wechselbrief)
  • Un Mari pour étrennes


  • Michel Faul, Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, harpiste, compositeur, escroc (Éditions Delatour, 2003)
  • Michel Faul, Les Tribulations mexicaines de Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, harpiste (Éditions Delatour, 2006)


  1. ^ Lawrence, Vera Brodsky. (1999). Strong on music: the New York music scene in the days of George Templeton Strong. University of Chicago Press. p. 65. ISBN 0226470156. OCLC 60191288.
  2. ^ An obituary, undoubtedly informed by his lover Anna Bishop, described him as "a native of Prague but at an early age became celebrated in Paris". See Death and Obsequies of the Late M. Bochsa The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 1856. Birth at Montmédy is recorded (without verification) in the French Wikipedia article and in the 1969 monograph in Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  3. ^ Lea-Scarlett, E. J., "Bochsa, Robert Nicholas Charles (1789–1856)" entry in Australian Dictionary of Biography (1969).

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