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 solfčge 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 pęcheurs 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 Genevičve 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'arlčsienne 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: L'arlesienne Suites, Carmen Suite No 1 / Abbado
Release Date: 06/12/2007   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 000874602   Number of Discs: 1
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Bizet: The Pearl Fishers Highlights In English / Cohen
Release Date: 09/30/2008   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 3156   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Symphony in C major

 

About This Work
Though Bizet's Symphony in C major (1855) today enjoys regular performances, the mature composer regarded the work as a youthful indiscretion and suppressed it. Indeed, the symphony remained unperformed until 1935, two years after it turned up in a Read more bundle of manuscripts donated to the Paris Conservatory by composer Reynaldo Hahn. Bizet, whose reputation rests on a mere handful of works, always attached greater importance to his later Symphony in C major (1871), subtitled "Roma." Nonetheless, the decidely less inspired "Roma" remains eclipsed in the shadow of its ebullient predecessor.

The 1855 symphony, written when Bizet was 17, was strongly influenced by the two symphonies of Gounod, which in turn owe something to Schubert and Mozart. The opening Allegro vivo commences with a short, inquiring rhythmic figure, a three-note motive that recalls the terseness of the material from which Beethoven spins the first movement of his Fifth Symphony. The second subject, in which the oboes and flutes figure prominently, is far more relaxed and linear. It is this subject that dominates the energetic development, though the first subject maintains a regular presence in one guise or another.

The Adagio begins with an introductory passage accompanied by a motive derived from the main rhythmic figure of the first movement. The oboe takes up a haunting, Oriental-inflected cantilena, the strings answering with a warm, serene theme of their own, no doubt inspired by bel canto opera. Bizet interrupts this lyrical, luxuriant expanse with a slow fugal section based on the motive that accompanied the introduction. A transition back to the oboe melody carries the movement to a gentle close.

The Scherzo begins with a Scottish tinge, a lively jigging rhythm. Bizet employs this first tune as counterpoint for the broad second subject, a string melody that recalls the soaring lines of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. The first subject pops up again, this time over a rustic drone bass, as the main substance of the movement's central Trio.

The fourth movement, a nimble, breathless Allegro vivo, opens with a whizzing workout for the strings, which take a few bars' rest as the brass and woodwinds play a cheerful march. A third melody affords a moment of lyricism for the strings, though they soon resume the scurrying pace of the opening. The symphony ends in a blaze of colorful virtuosity, an apt conclusion for a work so thoroughly infused with the composer's youthful exuberance.

-- James Reel, All Music Guide Read less

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