Monday, October 25, 8838

Georges Bizet (1838-1875) - Dangerous Liaisons

Georges [Alexandre Cesar Leopold] Bizet (October 25, 1838, Paris, France - June 3, 1875) was born at 28 rue de la Tour d'Auvergne in the 9th arrondissement. He was registered with the with a quintuple name, but was always known as simply by his first and last. His father was an amateur singer and composer, and his mother was the sister of the famous singing teacher François Delsarte. Georges entered the Paris Conservatory of Music in 1848, two weeks before his 10th birthday.

The Symphony in C Major (1855), was written when the young composer was 16, evidently as a student assignment. It seems that Bizet completely forgot about it, and the work was not discovered again until 1935, in the archives of the Conservatory library. Upon its first performance (February 26, 1935), the symphony was immediately hailed as a junior masterwork and a welcome addition to the early romantic-era repertory. The composition is noteworthy for bearing a striking stylistic resemblance to the music of Franz Schubert, whose work was virtually unknown in Paris at that time (with the possible exception of a few songs).

At the Conservatoire Bizet studied under Fromental Halévy, whose daughter Geneviève he later married. Halévy died in 1864, leaving his last opera Noé unfinished. Bizet completed it, but it was not performed until 1885, ten years after Bizet's own death.

In 1857, a setting of the one-act operetta Le Docteur Miracle won him a share in a prize offered by Jacques Offenbach. He also won the music composition scholarship of the Prix de Rome, the conditions of which required him to study in Rome for three years. There, his talent developed as he wrote such works as the opera Don Procopio (1858-59). There he also composed his only major sacred work, Te Deum (1858), which he submitted to the Prix Rodrigues competition, a contest for Prix de Rome winners only. Bizet failed to win the Prix, and the Te Deum score remained unpublished until 1971. He made two attempts to write another symphony in 1859, but destroyed the manuscripts in December of that year. Apart from this period in Rome, Bizet lived in the Paris area all his life.

His mother died shortly after his return to Paris. He composed the opera Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) for the Theatre Lyrique in 1863, which was an initial failure. He followed it with La jolie fille de Perth (premiered also in the Theatre Lyrique, in 1867), a symphony entitled Roma (1868), and Jeux d'enfants (Children's games) for piano duet (1871).

The popular L'Arlésienne was originally produced as incidental music for a play by Alphonse Daudet, first performed on 1 October 1872. Bizet himself derived a suite from the music (first performed 10 November 1872), and Ernest Guiraud later arranged a second suite; both these suites contain considerable rewriting of the original score.

L'Arlesienne Suite No. 1

II. Minuet, Allegro giocoso (minuetto)

L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2:

IV. Farandole (1875)

Recording 1

Recording 2

That year (22 May 1872) also saw the production of the romantic opera Djamileh, which is often seen as a precursor to Carmen. His overture Patrie was written in 1873.

Carmen (1874)

Act I, Habanera

Act II, Toreador Song

Act IV

Carmen (1875) is Bizet's best-known work and is based on a novella of the same title written in 1846 by Prosper Mérimée. Bizet composed the title role for a mezzo-soprano. Carmen was not initially well-received but praise for it eventually came from well-known contemporaries including Camille Saint-Saëns, Peter Illych Tchaikovsky, and Claude Debussy. Johannes Brahms attended over twenty performances of it, and considered it the greatest opera produced in Europe since the Franco-Prussian war. The views of these composers proved to be prophetic, as Carmen has since become one of the most popular works in the entire operatic repertoire.

However, Bizet did not live to see its success. He died from a heart attack at the age of 36 in Bougival (Yvelines), about 10 miles west of Paris. His death occurred on his third wedding anniversary, only a few months after Carmen's first performances.

He was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

His widow Geneviève later had an alliance with Élie-Miriam Delaborde, generally believed to have been the illegitimate son of

Charles-Valentin Alkan. However, she married Émile Straus, a banker with Rothschild family connections, and became a noted society hostess.

Marcel Proust used her as a model for the Duchesse de Guermantes in his roman fleuve

À la recherche du temps perdu. The Bizets' son Jacques had been a school-friend of Proust.

Bizet's music was used in the 20th Century as the basis for several important ballets.

The Soviet-era Carmen Suite (1967), set to music drawn from Carmen arranged by Rodion Shchedrin, gave the Bolshoi ballerina Maya Plisetskaya one of her signature roles; it was choreographed by Alberto Alonso. In the West the L'Arlesienne of Roland Petit is well-regarded, and the Symphony in C by George Balanchine is considered to be one of the great ballets of the 20th Century. It was first presented as Le Palais de Crystal by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947, and has been in the repertory there ever since. The ballet has no story: each movement of the symphony has its own ballerina, cavalier, and Corps de Ballet, all of whom dance together in the finale.

[8839 Mussorgsky / 8838 Bizet / 8835 Saint-Saens]