Georges Bizet

Biography

Born: 1838   Died: 1875   Country: France   Period: Romantic
Known for one of the world's most popular operas, Carmen, Georges Bizet deserves attention as well for other works of remarkable melodic charm. Many of his works received cool receptions on their premieres but are now considered central to the repertory of classical music.

Bizet was born in Paris on October 25, 1838, and grew up in a happy, musical family that encouraged his talents. He learned to read music at the same time he learned to
Read more read letters, and equally well. Entering the Paris Conservatory before he was ten, he earned first prize in solfège within six months, a first prize in piano in 1852, and eventually, the coveted Prix de Rome in 1857 for his cantata Clovis et Clotilde. His teachers had included Marmontel for piano and Halévy for composition, but the greatest influence on him was Charles Gounod, of whom Bizet later said "You were the beginning of my life as an artist." Bizet himself hid away his Symphony in C, written when he was 17, feeling it was too much like its models, Gounod's symphonies. The two years spent in Rome after winning his prize, would be the only extensive time, and a greatly impressionable one, that Bizet would spend outside of Paris in his brief life. When he returned to Paris, he lost confidence in his natural talents and began to substitute dry Germanic or academic writing for his own developing idiom. He composed a one-act opera for production at the Opéra-Comique, but the theater's director engaged him to write a full-length opera instead, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers). It was not a success at the time, but despite a few weaknesses, the work was revived in 1886, and its sheer beauty has earned it a respected position among the lesser-played operatic repertory. In 1863 Bizet's father bought land outside Paris where he built two bungalows, one of which Bizet frequently used as a compositional retreat. He began a friendship (apparently not a physical one) with a neighbor-woman named Céleste Mogador, a former actress, author, courtesan, circus rider, and dance-hall girl. She is said to have been the model for his masterpiece's title role of Carmen. Bizet earned his living as an accompanist and publishing house arranger. Meanwhile, he poured his creative efforts into an immense five-act opera in the grand tradition, Ivan IV, but it was never performed. This proved to be a pattern for the rest of his career. Bizet would work hard to get an opera produced, and even if he did, it would usually receive only a handful of performances. Bizet's corpus of unfinished works is large, and testifies to his unsettled existence and his difficulty in finding a place in France's notoriously hierarchical and conservative musical world. In 1869 Bizet married Geneviève Halévy, daughter of his teacher. The marriage did not turn out to be a happy one, primarily due to her family's history of mental illness. In 1872, Bizet's splendid incidental music for the play L'arlèsienne was poorly received, but when the composer assembled the music into an orchestral suite for a November performance, it found great acclaim. At last confident of his creative vision, Bizet was able to steer his final masterpiece through various obstacles, including the objections of singers and theater directors who were shocked by Carmen's subject matter. When the opera had its premiere on March 3, 1875, it was received barely well enough to hang on for future productions. Although it took audiences only a few weeks to catch on, Bizet died convinced it was a failure. Read less
Bizet: Carmen / Krasteva, Antonenko, Märzendorfer, Et Al
Release Date: 10/18/2005   Label: Euroarts  
Catalog: 2054528   Number of Discs: 1
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Bizet: Carmen / Kaufmann, Kasarova, Welser-Most
Release Date: 10/27/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002188409   Number of Discs: 1
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Bizet: Les Pecheurs De Perles / Fournet, Simoneau, Alarie
Release Date: 11/08/2011   Label: Guild  
Catalog: 2382/83   Number of Discs: 2
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Bizet: Carmen / Pretre, Callas, Guiot, Gedda, Massard
Release Date: 09/23/2014   Label: Warner Classics  
Catalog: 634110   Number of Discs: 2
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Bizet: Carmen / Ozawa, Norman, Freni, Schicoff, Estes
Release Date: 08/07/1989   Label: Philips  
Catalog: 422366   Number of Discs: 3
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Work: L'arlésienne: Suite no 1

 

About This Work
Both L'Arlésienne suites are taken from the incidental music Bizet wrote for Alfred Daudet's play of the same name, a melodrama about the love of the hero, Frédéri, for a girl from Arles in Provence, France. In a little over six Read more weeks, and limited to an orchestra of 26 players, Bizet produced 27 numbers, some no more than a few bars long. Taken together, they are an orchestral tour de force. The orchestra includes a saxophone in E flat, tambourine, piano, and harmonium, with the addition of a small chorus. A few passages are for string quartet alone. The overall effect is of a fully developed, closely integrated set of movements that, as concert performances of the original version have shown, easily stand on their own, and benefit from being freed from the dialogue that accompanied them in the play.

A month after the first production Bizet rescored the four extracts that form the first suite for full orchestra, with the equally sunny and melodious second suite arranged by his friend, the composer Ernest Guiraud, after Bizet's death. Both have proved more durable than the play. Lyrical and spirited by turns, the melodies are rooted in Provençal folk songs and dances, yet have all the color and drama associated with the composer of Carmen.

The first suite comprises four movements: Prelude, Intermezzo (with its title changed to Minuet), Adagietto, and Carillon. Apart from the scoring, the Prelude and Adagietto are unchanged from the original. The latter, a calm reverie for strings, has some magical effects that could not have been conveyed by the original small orchestra. Brass chords set against exultant strings vividly suggest the sound of bells in the Carillon.

Guiraud was closely associated with Bizet's music, having supplied recitatives for Carmen. The choral sections make a satisfying whole when the two suites are played consecutively. Guiraud uses almost the same orchestra as Bizet, though in places with less subtlety. A Pastorale and its following chorus are treated in a similar way to Bizet's Carillon. The Intermezzo, with some fine woodwind passages in the trio section, reinstates the Minuet from the first suite. A second Minuet imported from Bizet's opera The Fair Maid of Perth is pleasant, but sounds rather odd in this context. Guiraud's version of the Farandole (slightly altered from Bizet's) captures the exhilarating nature of this moderately fast traditional "chain" dance.

-- Roy Brewer, All Music Guide Read less

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