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Jules Massenet


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Montaud, France (1842 – 1912)

Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet (May 12, 1842 – August 13, 1912) was a French composer from Montaud, France, who was best known for his operas.

His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet’s style went out of fashion, and many of his operas fell into almost total oblivion. Apart from Manon and Werther, his works were rarely performed. However, since the mid-1970s, many operas of his such as Thaïs and Esclarmonde have undergone periodic revivals.

Massenet’s operas shared the opera vogue of nineteenth century France with Wagner’s, their direct opposite. Massenet’s twenty-five were of the Meyerbeer-Offenbach type, that is, light and popular, rather than “grand”. Some of them helped to ensure the success of Oscar Hammerstein’s opera experiment in New York. Manon is a typical Massenet opera. Its immediate appeal is strong, thanks to its extremely singable melodies.

Massenet wrote operas with one eye on the prima donna who was to sing them. This habit was not discouraged by his wife, who knew that prima donnas were his bread and butter. She encouraged him to send them operas rather than pearl necklaces.

He studied under Ambroise Thomas at the Conservatoire, and traveled his full three years as a Prix de Rome winner, making the acquaintance of the ubiquitous Liszt while in Rome. He returned to Paris in time to shoulder a gun during the siege of 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War. He then settled down to teaching counterpoint at the Conservatoire, writing operas, and enjoying the footlight existence of the opera composer.


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