Composer (1838 - 1875)
Georges Bizet was born in Paris on October 25th, 1838, and was the only son of a family of musicians. His father gave singing lessons and his mother was a talented piano player. Georges's musical education was initially taken care of by his mother who started teaching him at the tender age of 4. At the age of 9, his musical notions were complete and his father tried to gain admission for him to the Paris Conservatory. Classes were full however, and as well as that, Georges wasn't old enough to enter. His father sent him to A.F. Marmontel, pianist and composer, who recognized an enormous amount of talent in the young Bizet. The young student finally gained admission to the Conservatory a few days before his 10th birthday.
His schooling days boasted much recognition from the very beginning: he won, in fact, first prize for the solfeggio after only six months from the beginning of his studies, and was granted the opportunity to take exclusive lessons with P.J. Zimmermann. The teacher, however, was not in good health and was therefore often substituted by his son-in-law Charles Gounod. Bizet's encounter with this musician really influenced his music, not always, however, in a positive sense. Georges's talent as a pianist was evident and for that reason the young student received tributes from important musicians like Berlioz, Liszt and Marmontel. In 1853 Zimmermann died and Bizet started taking lessons with J.F. Halévy.
His first compositions awarded him with prizes such as the "Prix de Rome" in 1857. The latter prize accorded him, among other things, the right to a study period abroad lasting three years. The first period was to be spent in Rome followed by another period in Germany. Bizet's most important compositions in the early years were orchestral pieces, in which the matrix which characterized his most famous operas was evident. It is important to mention the Symphony in C
, which Bizet composed at the age of seventeen.
In December 1857 the young musician left for Rome, where he perhaps spent the happiest years of his life. Liberated of financial problems thanks to the grant which he was guaranteed from the "Prix de Rome", he had the possibility to visit many places in the Italian peninsula, and remained captivated by its beauty. He saw Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence and was deeply impressed, in particular, by Capo Circeo, which inspired some of his compositions. During his period in Rome, the opera Don Procopio
, which was obviously inspired by Italy, was composed. However, during his stay in Italy, Bizet began to suffer from depression which led to the artist having doubts in his own artistic value. This delayed his musical maturity. Due to his acquired doubts, the young musician abandoned some of his projects and every now and then over the years he destroyed operas which had already been composed, such as Ivan IV
. Bizet remained in Italy for the entire study period which had been financed by the 'Prix de Rome'. Gounod was bitterly disappointed, however, as he would have liked Bizet to have also gone to Germany to study.
In 1860 his stay in Italy ended and Bizet returned to Paris, where a few difficult years awaited him. In fact he composed a new series of operas which were badly received by the critics. He earned his living by teaching and carrying out adaptation activities for voice and pianoforte requested by editors, playing musical accompaniment during the opera rehearsals and various other jobs. Even though he was a very talented pianist, he always refused to play piano in public, for fear of compromising his career as a composer. In 1863 he accepted the task of putting music to the libretto Les Pêcheurs de perles
, which received perplexed criticism as soon as it was staged in the theatre the same year.
In 1866 Bizet composed La Jolie fille de Perth
, staged in 1867. The opera was well performed and was received with positive criticism by the public, a unique occurrence when compared to Bizet's other operas staged during his life. In the same year he was assigned the task of music critic for the periodical La revue nationale et étrangère but he published only one article because the second one was censured by the new editor and consequently the musician resigned. 1868 was the year in which Bizet reached a turning point which pushed him to complete the symphonic suite recorded with the name of Roma, which had been started in Italy and had been left incomplete. The performance took place the following year and was successful. 1869 was an important year in the private life of Bizet when he married Geneviève Halévy, the daughter of his teacher. The marriage turned out to be unhappy in a short time due to the mental instability of his wife. Following this, Bizet served as a National Guard in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war. He and his wife were in Paris throughout the siege and shared the privations which led to the deterioration of the health of the composer.
In the same period the composer wrote the Jeux d'enfants, a collection of 12 pieces for two pianofortes, which were later transcribed for orchestra. In 1873 he published the opéra-comique in one act Djamileh
, which was not successful and for which Bizet was accused of Wagnerism, an offence which he had already been accused of for Les pêcheurs de perles. In the same year Bizet experienced a crushing failure for the music he composed for L'Arlésienne
by A. Daudet. Immediately afterwards, Bizet concentrated on the libretto written by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based on the short story by Prosper Mérimée: Carmen
. As soon as the first act was finished, he interrupted the composition to create Don Rodrigue
, to be performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris. However, a fire prevented the opera from being staged. In 1874 Carmen, the opera which proved that the composer had reached his artistic maturity, was completed and the public was able to view it the following year. The reaction of the audience was so cold that the author went into a crisis from which he never recovered. On June 3rd, 1875 Bizet died of a heart attack at his country home in Bougival.
The composer's artistic value was only to be appreciated later. Bizet had staged the psychological realism of the works of Standhal, Balzac and Mérimée. Carmen was soon to be recognized as the opera which anticipated verism, the European literary movement of that time. The artist, therefore, who had received very little recognition for his operas when alive, began to be appreciated. As well as being able to compete with the fascination of Wagner, his music influenced Tchaikovsky, Chabrier, Mascagni, Leoncavallo and most of all Puccini.