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1838 1875

Georges Bizet

Bizet, Georges
  • Composer of the opera Carmen and a handful of other popular works.

Vital Statistics

Born: October 25, 1838, Paris
Died: June 3, 1875, Paris
Nationality: French
Genre: Romantic
Performed as: Pianist
During the composer's lifetime: Railroads helped create the suburbs of Paris. Baron Haussmann redesigned Paris, leveling entire districts and creating the city’s modern face. A new opera house, the Palais Garnier, was built. War with Prussia, in 1871, brought down France’s Second Empire, and 20,000 Parisians died fighting their own government during the Paris Commune.

Biographical Outline

  • Born to music: Both of Bizet’s parents, and an uncle were singing teachers. His mother teaches him piano and singing, and he is admitted to the Paris Conservatoire de Musique at age 9. He wins a piano first prize from the Conservatoire in 1852, and studies with the respected composers Fromental Hàlevy and Charles Gounod. In 1857, at 19, Bizet wins the Prix de Rome, the Conservatoire’s top composition award.
  • Young professional, 1860: Bizet works as an arranger, making piano reductions of large scores. In 1863, he writes Les pêcheurs de perles (The pearl fishers) for the Theatre-Lyrique. This is a moderate success winning praise from then-critic Hector Berlioz.
  • Doubt, 1867: The lukewarm reaction to Bizet’s La jolie fille de Perth (The fair maid of Perth), troubles Bizet and increases his chronic indecisiveness. Nevertheless, he continues to work, finishing the big symphony Roma in 1868.
  • Back on track, 1871-1872: Bizet finishes the one-act opera Djamileh and the piano suite Jeux d’enfants (Children’s games), some of which are orchestrated and performed. The orchestral suite of music to the play L’Arlesienne (The girl from Arles, 1872), is an immediate hit.
  • Carmen, 1873-1875: Commissioned by the Opéra Comique. Rehearsals for Carmen are delayed, partly because one of the Opéra Comique’s two directors objected to the morality of the libretto. It  finally premieres on March 3, 1875, and is successful, despite its scandalous storyline. Bizet dies three months later, after suffering two heart attacks.

Fun Facts

  • Name game: Bizet’s given name was Alexandre César Léopold. He just liked Georges better.
  • Dual nature: Bizet was sincere, guileless, and vivacious. However, he was also moody and indecisive, which caused a break in his marriage. A theater composer has to take charge of his librettists and the staging of a work, and deal effectively with theater directors. Bizet could do none of this, floating from project to project without a clear path. That’s a major reason for his theatrical failures.
  • Highest praise: Bizet’s ability as a pianist, particularly as a sight-reader, was so great that the  famous Liszt pronounced him his equal.
  • Parisian to the core: Aside from his three years in Italy after winning the Prix de Rome, Bizet rarely left Paris and its suburbs.
  • Recycler: Bizet always reused material from unproduced or unfinished works. That’s a good thing, because Bizet left a lot of unfinished work: Only six of 30 opera projects he started were ever completed.
  • Movie life: Carmen is unquestionably one of the most famous and popular operas of all time. There are numerous film versions, including two silent movie versions in 1915, a flamenco version (by Carlos Saura, 1983), and a traditionally operatic version (1984). In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein II wrote an African American version, Carmen Jones, and two recent movie adaptations have been set in Dakar, Senegal (Karmen Gei, sung in Wolof and French) and South Africa (U-Carmen-e-Khayelitsha, 2005, sung in the Xhosa language).

Recommended Biography

  • There are no recent, English language biographies of Bizet. The standard one is out of print, but is worthwhile, if you can find it:
  • Mina Stein Kirstein Curtiss, Bizet and His World. (Greenwood Press Reprint, 1977).

Explore the Music

  • Melody Man: Bizet had a huge melodic gift. Aside from Carmen, The Pearl Fishers has recently become quite common onstage. Bizet’s other operas are almost never produced. The L’Arlesienne suite is a staple of orchestral  programs, along with the Symphony in C Major, written when he was 17. Many of his melodies (art-songs) are brilliant, and Jeux d’enfants is delightful.
  • Carmen the great: Bizet’s Carmen is a landmark in 19th-century opera for its grittiness, its defiantly sexual leading female character, and its non-heroic portrayal of a wide slice of society. It is consistently one of the five most performed operas in the world and contains some of the most famous opera melodies ever written, foremost the Habanera and the Toreador Song.
  • To sing, or to speak: The dialogue in Carmen was originally meant to be spoken. Recitatives were added by Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud after the composer’s death, to help broaden the work’s appeal to producers.
  • Misrepresented: Many of Bizet’s original autograph scores are still missing, and his works exist in a variety of unreliable, unauthorized, badly edited versions.

Recommended Websites

Carmen look inside Carmen (Vocal Score). By Georges Bizet (1838-1875). Arranged by Ruth & Thomas Martin. For SATB chorus, 12 solo voices and piano accompaniment (Score). G. Schirmer Opera Score Editions. Classical Period and Opera. Difficulty: difficult. Vocal score. Vocal score, piano reduction, lyrics and introductory text. 391 pages. G. Schirmer #ED421. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.50337190)

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BIZET Jeux d'enfants (Twelve Children's Games), op. 22 for piano duet look inside

Listen!

BIZET Jeux d'enfants (Twelve Children's Games), op. 22 for piano duet By Georges Bizet (1838-1875). For piano (2 or 4 hands). Instrumental Solo Part and CD. Published by Music Minus One (MO.MMOCD3043)

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