Composer born in Piacenza, just north of Parma, Italy, in the Palace of the Farnese family. He was born into a French family of dance masters celebrated in European courts. As his father was dance master to the young Elisabetta Farnese, one must assume that Courcelle was the object of great interest to and attention from the teenager (born 1692) who, as Queen Isabel, consort to Felipe V, would later call him to Madrid. As his career progressed Courcelle would subsequently have been known as well to the future Spanish king, Isabel's son Carlos III, to whom he would be maestro del cappella when, in 1731, at the age of fifteen, Carlos became Duke of Parma.
A prolific composer, Francisco Courcelle held that post in the Stecatta Church in Parma as early as 1729, at a time when his precocious works were already beginning to break the limitations of Baroque style in a constant move toward classicism. When called to Madrid in 1733 to be the music master for Isabel's children, it was with an understanding that he would assume the position of maestro de capilla on the death of the sitting José de Torres. That transition took place in 1738, and from that date until his death in a carriage accident in 1778, Courcelle maintained the post in Madrid.
Courcelle's music is significant for its expressive melodies -- punctuated by wide leaps, for its brilliant orchestration, for exemplary solo-choral voicing, and for the drama which pervades the liturgical works. Organist, violinist, and tenor, he well understood the musical forces at his command. His sense of rhythm is pervasively syncopatic, the forward motion in dramatic cadences frequently stopped in its tracks by a held dominant chord, followed by a grand pause. Handsome and personable, he was a welcome addition to the court, and is known to have ingratiated himself among musicians and especially Nebra by his generous spirit. Offspring of a line of dance masters, he would have been quite at home with the dance influences that suffuse the Spanish culture, though he never referred to them in his great liturgical works.