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Massenet, Jules (-Émile-Frédéric)

Massenet, Jules (-Émile-Frédéric)

Massenet, Jules (-Émile-Frédéric), famous French composer and pedagogue; b. Montaud, near St.-Etienne, Loire, May 12, 1842; d. Paris, Aug. 13, 1912. He was 6 when he began to study piano with his mother. At 9, he was admitted to the Paris Cons. to study piano and theory. He had to leave the Cons. in 1854 when his father’s ill health compelled the family to move to Chambéry. In 1855 he was able to resume his studies at the Cons., where he received instruction in piano from Laurent. In 1858 he made his public debut as a pianist in a Paris recital. In 1859 he won the premier prix for piano at the Cons., where he also pursued training with Reber (harmony), Benoist (organ), and Thomas (composition). In 1863 he won the Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata David Rizzio. His first major success as a composer came with the premiere of his oratorio Marie-Magdeleine (Paris, April 11, 1873). His next oratorio, Eve (Paris, March 18, 1875), won him the Légion d’honneur. His first operatic success came with the premiere of Le roi de Lahore at the Paris Opéra on April 27, 1877. The success of his opera Hérodiade (Brussels, Dec. 19, 1881) resulted in his being made a Knight of the Order of Leopold of Belgium. He scored a triumph with the first performance of his opera Manon at the Paris Opéra on Jan. 19, 1884. This score is generally acknowledged as his finest opera. Werther, another distinguished opera, added to his renown when it was premiered at the Vienna Court Opera on Feb. 16, 1892. Equally noteworthy was his opera Thaïs (Paris Opéra, March 16, 1894). Among his later operatic efforts, the most important were Le jongleur de Notre-Dame (Monte Carlo, Feb. 18, 1902) and Don Quichotte (Monto Carlo, Feb. 24, 1910). Of his incidental scores, that for Leconte de Lisle’s drama Les Érinnyes (Paris, Jan. 6, 1873) was particularly notable. In 1878 Massenet was appointed prof, of composition at the Paris Cons., a position he held with distinction until 1896. He was a highly influential teacher, numbering among his students Bruneau, Charpentier, Pierné, Koechlin, and Schmitt. In 1878 he was elected a member of the Institut of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, ascending to the rank of Grand- Officier in 1900. Massenet wrote an autobiography, Mes souvenirs (completed by X. Leroux; Paris, 1912; Eng. tr., 1919, as My Recollections). He was one of the leading French opera composers of his era. His operas are the work of a fine craftsman, marked by a distinctive style, sensuous melodiousness, and lyricism that proved immediately appealing to audiences of his day. However, even before his death, developments in the lyric theater had passed him by. In succeeding years, his operas were heard infrequently, and almost disappeared from the active repertoire. Even the celebrated Meditation for Violin and Orch. from Thaïs, long a favorite concert piece with violinists and audiences, was seldom performed. Today, revivals of Manon, Werther, and Thaïs have won Massenet new audiences around the world.


dramatic: opera:Esmeralda (1865; not extant); La coup du roi de Thulé (1866?); La grandmante (Paris, April 3, 1867); Manfred (1869?; unfinished); Méduse (1870; unfinished); Don César de Bazan (Paris, Nov. 30, 1872); L’adorable bel’-boul’ (Paris, April 17, 1874; not extant); Les templiers (1875?; not extant); Bérangère et Anatole (Paris, Feb. 1876); Le roi de Lahore (Paris, April 27, 1877); Robert de France (1880?; not extant); Les Girondins (1881; not extant); Hérodiade (Brussels, Dec. 19, 1881); Manon (Paris, Jan. 19, 1884); Le Cid (Paris, Nov. 30, 1885); Esclarmonde (Paris, May 14, 1889); Le mage (Paris, March 16, 1891); Werther (Vienna, Feb. 16, 1892); Thaïs (Paris, March 16, 1894); Le portrait de Manon (Paris, May 8, 1894); La navarraise (London, June 20, 1894); Amadis (1895?; Monte Carlo, April 1, 1922); Sapho (Paris, Nov. 27, 1897; rev. 1909); Cendrillon (Paris, May 24, 1899); Grisélidis (Paris, Nov. 20, 1901); Le jongleur de Notre-Dame (Monte Carlo, Feb. 18, 1902); Chérubin (Monte Carlo, Feb. 14, 1903); Ariane (Paris, Oct. 31, 1906); Thérèse (Monte Carlo, Feb. 7, 1907); Bacchus (Paris, May 5, 1909); Don Quichotte (Monte Carlo, Feb. 24, 1910); Roma (Monte Carlo, Feb. 17, 1912); Panurge (Paris, April 25, 1913); Cléopâtre (Monte Carlo, Feb. 23, 1914). ba11et: Le carillon (Vienna, Feb. 21, 1892); Cigale (Paris, Feb. 4, 1904); Espada (Monte Carlo, Feb. 13, 1908). Incidental Music (all 1st perf. in Paris unless otherwise given):Les Érinnyes (Jan. 6, 1873); Un drame sous Philippe II (April 14, 1875); La vie de Bohème (1876); L’Hetman (Feb. 2, 1877); Notre-Dame de Paris (June 4, 1879); Michel Strogoff (Nov. 17, 1880); Nana-Sahib (Dec. 20, 1883); Theodora (Dec. 26, 1884); Le crocodile (Dec. 21, 1886); Phèdre (Dec. 8, 1900); Le grillon du foyer (Oct. 1, 1904); Le manteau du roi (Oct. 22, 1907); Perce-Neige et les sept gnomes (Feb. 2, 1909); Jérusalem (Monte Carlo, Jan. 17, 1914). orch.: Ouverture de concert (1863); 7 suites: No. 1, Première suite d’orchestre (1865), No. 2, Scènes hongroises (1871), No. 3, Scènes dramatiques (1873), No. 4, Scènes pittoresques (1874), No. 5, Scènes napolitaines (1876?), No. 6, Scènes de féerie (1879), and No. 7, Scènes alsaciennes (1881); Ouverture de Phèdre (1873); Sarabande du XVIe siècle (1875); Marche héroïque de Szabady (1879); Parade militaire (1887); Visions, poème symphonique (1890); Devant la Madone (1897); Fantaisie for Cello and Orch. (1897); Marche solennelle (1897); Brumaire, overture (1899); Les grand violons du roi (1900?); Les Rosati (1902); Piano Concerto (1903). other: 4 oratorios:Marie-Magdeleine (Paris, April 11, 1873); Eve (Paris, March 18, 1875); La Vierge (Paris, May 22, 1880); La terre promise (Paris, March 15, 1900); the choral pieces Narcisse (1877) and Biblis (1886); secular cantatas, including David Rizzio (1863); part songs; about 200 songs; piano pieces; completion and orchestration of Delibes’s opera Kassya (Paris, March 24, 1893).


E. de Solenière, M.iÉtude critique et documentaire (Paris, 1897); C. Fournier, Étude sur le style de M. (Amiens, 1905); L. Schneider, M.:L’homme, le musicien (Paris, 1908; 2nd ed., 1926); H. Finck, M. and His Operas (London and N.Y., 1910); O. Séré, M. (Paris, 1911); special issue of Musica (Sept. 1912); A. Soubies, M. historien (Paris, 1913); A. Pougin, M. (Paris, 1914); C. Widor, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de M. (Paris, 1915); H. Twitchell, “M. as a Teacher,” Musician, XXV (1920); J. Loisel, Manon de M.:Étude historique et critique (Paris, 1922); C. Bouvet, M. (Paris, 1929); J. d’Udine, L’art du lied et le mélos de M. (Paris, 1931); M. Delmas, M., sa vie, ses oeuvres (Paris, 1932); A. Bruneau, M. (Paris, 1935); A. Morin, J. M. et ses opéras (Montreal, 1944); N. Boyer, Trois musiciens français: Gounod, M., Debussy (Paris, 1946); P. Colson, M.; Manon (London, 1947); J. Bruyr, M. (Geneva, 1948); idem, M., musicien de la belle époque (Lyons, 1964); A. Coquis, J. M.: L’homme et son oeuvre (Paris, 1965); E. Bouilhol, M.:Son rôle dans l’évolution du théâtre musicale (St.-Etienne, 1969); L. Stocker, The Treatment of the Romantic Literary Hero in Verdi’s “Emani” and in M.’ “Werther” (diss., Fla. State Univ., 1969); J. Harding, M. (London, 1970); O. Salzer, The M. Compendium (Fort Lee, N.J., 1984); G. Marschall, M. et la fixation de la forme mélodique française (Saarbrücken, 1988); D. Irvine, M.: A Chronicle of His Life and Times (Portland, Ore., 1993); B. Olivier, J. M., itinéraires pour un théâtre musical (Arles, 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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