Delibes, (Clément-Philibert-)Léo , famous French composer; b. St.-Germain-du-Val, Sarthe, Feb. 21, 1836; d. Paris, Jan. 16, 1891. He received his early musical training with his mother and an uncle, then enrolled in the Paris Cons, in 1847 as a student of Tariot. He won a premier prix in solfege in 1850, and also studied organ with Benoist and composition with Adam. In 1853 he became organist of St. Pierre de Chaillot and accompanist at the Théâtre-Lyrique. In 1856 his first work for the stage, Deux sous de charbon, a one-act operetta, humorously designated an “asphyxie lyrique,” was produced at the Folies-Nouvelles. His second work, the operette bouffe Deux vieilles gardes, won considerable acclaim at its premiere at the Bouffes Parisiens on Aug. 8, 1856. Several more operettas were to follow, as well as his first substantial work for the stage, Le Jardinier et son seigneur, given at the ThéâtreLyrique on May 1, 1863. In 1864 he became chorus master of the Paris Opéra. With Louis Minkus, he collaborated on the ballet score La Source, which was heard for the first time at the Paris Opéra, on Nov. 12, 1866. It was with his next ballet, Coppélia, ou La Fille aux yeux d’email, that Delibes achieved lasting fame after its premiere at the Paris Opéra on May 25, 1870. Another ballet, Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane (Paris Opéra, June 14, 1876), was equally successful. He then wrote a grand Opéra, Jean de Nivelle (Opéra-Comique, March 8, 1880), which was moderately successful; it was followed by his triumphant masterpiece, the Opéra Lakmé (Opéra-Comique, April 14, 1883), in which he created a most effective lyric evocation of India; the “Bell Song” from Lakmé became a perennial favorite in recitals. In 1881 he was appointed prof, of composition at the Paris Cons.; in 1884, was elected a member of the Inst. His last Opéra, Kassya, was completed but not orchestrated at the time of his death; Massenet orchestrated the score, and it was premiered at the Opéra-Comique on March 24, 1893. Delibes was a master of melodious elegance and harmonious charm; his music possessed an autonomous flow in colorful timbres, and a finality of excellence that seemed effortless while subtly revealing a mastery of the Romantic technique of composition.
DRAMATI C (all first perf. at the Bouffes Parisiens in Paris unless otherwise given): Deux sous de charbon, ou Le Suicide de Bigorneau, asphyxie lyrique (Folies-Nouvelles, Feb. 9,1856); Deux vieilles gardes, opérette bouffe (Aug. 8,1856); Six demoiselles a marier, opérette bouffe (Nov. 12, 1856); Maitre Griffard, Opéra-comique (Theatre- Lyrique, Oct. 3,1857); La Fille du golfe, Opéra-comique (publ. 1859); L’Omelette a la Follembuche, opérette bouffe (June 8, 1859); Monsieur de Bonne-Etoile, Opéracomique (Feb. 4, 1860); Les Musiciens de I’orchestre, opérette bouffe (Jan. 25,1861; in collaboration with Offenbach, Hignard, and Erlanger); Les Eaux d’Ems, Comédie (1861); Mon ami Pierrot, opérette (1862); Le Jardinier et son seigneur, Opéra-comique (Theatre- Lyrique, May 1, 1863); La Tradition, prologue en vers (Jan. 5,1864); Grande nouvelle, opérette (publ. 1864); Le Serpent a plumes, farce (Dec. 16, 1864); Le Boeuf Apis, Opéra bouffe (April 25, 1865); La Source, ou Naila, ballet (Opéra, Nov. 12, 1866; in collaboration with Louis Minkus); Valse, ou Pas defleurs, diver-tissement (Opéra, Nov. 12, 1867; for Adam’s Le Gorsaire); Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre, Act 4, opérette bouffe (Athenee, Dec. 13, 1867; Act 1 by Bizet, 2 by E. Jonas, and 3 by Legouix); L’Ecossais de Ghatou, opérette (Jan. 16, 1869); La Cour du roi Petaud, Opéra bouffe (Varietes, April 24, 1869); Coppélia, ou La Fille aux yeux d’email, ballet (Opéra, May 25, 1870); Le Roi I’a dit, Opéra-comique (Opéra-Comique, May 24, 1873); Sylvia, ou La Nymphe de Diane, ballet (Opéra, June 14, 1876); Jean de Nivelle, Opéra (Opéra-Comique, March 8, 1880); Le Roi s’amuse, six airs de danse dans le style ancien, incidental music to Hugo’s play (Comédie-Frangaise, Nov. 22, 1882); Lakmé, Opéra (Opéra-Comique, April 14, 1883); Kassya, drame lyrique (Opéra-Comique, March 24, 1893; orchestrated by Massenet); also sketches for Le Roi des montagnes, Opéra- comique; 2 WORKS not extant: Le Don Juan suisse, Opéra bouffe, and La Princesse Ravigote, Opéra bouffe. OTHER: Alger, cantata (1865); choral works; songs; duets; pieces for organ and piano; etc.
E. Guiraud, Notice sur la vie et les oeuvres de L. D. (Paris, 1892); H. de Curzon, L D. (Paris, 1926); A. Coquis, L D.: Sa vie et son oeuvre (1836–1891) (Paris, 1957); W. Studwell, ed., Adolphe Adam and L. D.: A Guide to Research (N.Y., 1987).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire