Massenet, Jules (Émile Frédéric)
Romanticist opera composer; b. Montaud, France, May 12, 1842 (baptized Jules Émile Frédéric); d. Paris, Aug. 13, 1912. He was a graduate of the Paris Conservatory, which he had entered at age nine; he won the Prix de Rome in 1863, and in 1878 was appointed professor of counterpoint and composition at the conservatory. Although he was most successful in opera, Manon (1884) being accounted his masterpiece, some of his best early compositions, e.g., Eve and Marie-Magdeleine, were oratorios with religious themes. Marie-Magdeleine, as converted to an opera in 1903, is a travesty on the Gospels. Le Jongleur de Nôtre Dame (1902), in contrast, has a moving libretto and tastefully handled religious episodes, but the absence of a female role and a general lack of austerity are probably the chief obstacles to its revival. All his other operas, notably Hérodiade and Thaïs (from which the popular "Méditation religieuse" of violin repertory is taken), are marked by an authentic lyricism and sense of theater, and marred by a lack of spiritual depth and a too-obvious desire to please the public. His work for the lyric theater influenced debussy and, even more strongly, puccini.
Bibliography: j. e. f. massenet, My Recollections, tr. h. v. barnett (Boston 1919). h. t. finck, Massenet and His Operas (New York 1910). a. bruneau, Massenet (Paris 1935). Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, ed. n. slonimsky (5th, rev. ed. New York 1958) 1045–46. j.-c. branger, "Mes souvenirs : De nouvelles sources relatives aux Mémoires de Jules Massenet," Revue de Musicologie 83 (1997) 117–135. j. a. feldman, "Manon " in International Dictionary of Opera 2 v. ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993) 798–799. j. w. hansen, "Sibyl Sanderson's Influence on Manon," The Opera Quarterly 15/1 (1999) 38–48. c. headington, "Werther " in International Dictionary of Opera 2v., ed. c. s. larue, (Detroit 1993) 1456–1457. d. irvine, Massenet: A Chronicle of His Life and Times (Portland, Oregon 1994). s. willier, "Le Roi de Lahore " International Dictionary of Opera 2 v., ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993) 1127–1128.
[r. m. longyear]