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Jules Massenet

Jules (Émile Frédéric) Massenet (May 12, 1842 – August 13, 1912) was a French composer 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, his 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 of his operas such as Esclarmonde, have undergone periodic revivals.



Massenet was born in Montaud, then an outlying hamlet and now a part of the city of Saint-Étienne, in the Loire. When he was six, his family moved to Paris due to his father's ill-health. There, his mother (Adélaïde Massenet, née Royer; her husband's second wife) started taking piano pupils. She also taught Jules so well that at eleven he was able to enter the Paris Conservatoire. He was still a student when his family moved from Paris to Chambéry, but Jules returned to Paris after a few months, living with a married member of his father's family by his first wife. To support himself during his studies, he worked as timpanist for six years at the Théâtre Lyrique, playing also other percussion instruments in other theatres, and working as a pianist in the Café de Belleville.

Although, at first, some of his teachers had not predicted for him any career in music, this changed in 1862 when he won the Grand Prix de Rome with his cantata David Rizzio, and spent three years in Rome. There he met Franz Liszt, at whose request he gave piano lessons to the daughter of Mme. Sainte-Marie; within three years, his pupil became his wife.

His first opera La Grand' Tante was a one-act production at the Opéra-Comique in 1867. Nevertheless it was his dramatic oratorio Marie-Magdeleine (first performed in 1873) that won him praise from the likes of Tchaikovsky, Vincent d'Indy (who afterwards turned against him), and Charles Gounod. His real mentor, though, was the composer Ambroise Thomas, a man with important contacts in theatrical milieux. Another important early patron was his publisher, Georges Hartmann, whose connections with journalistic circles aided him in becoming better known during the difficult initial years of his composing activity. Even Massenet's marriage to Louise-Constance de Gressy (1866) helped him a great deal in social circles, which was important during this time.

Massenet took a break from his composing to serve as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War, but returned to his art following the end of the conflict in 1871. From 1878 he was professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory where his pupils included Gustave Charpentier, Reynaldo Hahn and Charles Koechlin. His greatest successes were Manon in 1884, Werther in 1892, and Thaïs in 1894. Notable later operas were Le jongleur de Notre-Dame, produced in 1902, and Don Quichotte, produced in Monte Carlo 1910, with the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin in the title-role.

In 1876 he received the Légion d'honneur, and was appointed a Grand Officer in 1899. In 1878 he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, to the exclusion of Camille Saint-Saëns. He was only 36, the youngest member ever elected to the Académie.

In addition to his operas, Massenet composed concert suites, ballet music, oratorios and cantatas and about two hundred songs. Some of his non-vocal output has achieved widespread popularity, and is commonly performed: for example the Méditation from Thaïs, which is a violin solo with orchestra, as well as the Aragonaise, from his opera Le Cid and the Élégie for cello and orchestra (from his incidental music to Les Érinnyes). The latter two pieces are commonly played by piano students, and the Élégie became world famous in many arrangements.

Massenet died in Paris at the age of 70, after suffering from a long illness (cancer).[1] [2]

Being a very prolific, hard-working composer (over 25 extant operas, with his daily schedule starting frequently from as early as 4 a.m.), he created his pieces not "at the piano" (as so many other composers do), but entirely from his imagination. That ability greatly helped him to achieve his high standards as an orchestrator: even in his loudest passages, the instrumental texture is always lucid. It is curious that he was also known to avoid all public dress rehearsals and performances of his works; often he would have to be informed by others of his own operatic successes.


Massenet at his home in Égreville, near Fontainebleau.
Massenet, c. 1910.


Oratorios and cantatas


Orchestral compositions

  • Première suite d'orchestre - 1867
  • Scènes hongroises - 1870
  • Scènes pittoresques - 1874
  • Scènes dramatiques - 1875
  • Scènes napolitaines - 1876
  • Scènes de féerie - 1881
  • Scènes alsaciennes - 1882
  • Fantasy for cello and orchestra - 1897
  • Piano Concerto - 1903
  • Ouverture de concert
  • Overture to Racine's Phèdre
  • Sarabande espagnole

Incidental music

  • Les Érinnyes (containing the famous Élégie) - 1873
  • Un Drame sous Philippe II - 1875
  • La Vie de Bohème - 1876
  • L'Hetman - 1877
  • Notre-Dame de Paris - 1879
  • Michel Strogoff - 1880
  • Nana-Sahin - 1883
  • Théodora - 1884
  • Le Crocodile - 1900
  • Phèdre - 1900
  • Le Grillon du foyer - 1904
  • Le Manteau du roi - 1907
  • Perce-Beige et les sept gnomes - 1909
  • Jérusalem - 1914

Song collections and cycles

  • Poëme d'Avril (Armand Silvestre), Op. 14, songs, declaimed poems and piano solos, c.1866, published 1868
  • Poëme pastoral (Florian and Armand Silvestre), baritone, 3 female voices, piano, 1870-72, published 1872
  • Chansons des bois d'Amaranthe (M. Legrand, after Redwitz), four solo voices (SATB) and piano, 1900, published 1901


  • À Colombine (Serenade d’Arlequin) (Louis Gallet)
  • À la Trépassée (Armand Silvestre)
  • À la Zuecca (Alfred de Musset)
  • À Mignonne (Gustave Chouquet)
  • Adieu (Complainte) (Armand Silvestre)
  • Adieux (Gilbert)
  • Anniversaire (Armand Silvestre)
  • Aubade (Gabriel Prévost)
  • Automne (Paul Collin)
  • Berceuse (Gustave Chouquet)
  • Bonne nuit! (Camille Distel)
  • Ce que disent les cloches (Jean de la Vingtrie)
  • C'est l'amour (Victor Hugo)
  • Chant Provençal (Michel Carré)
  • Crépuscule (Armand Silvestre)
  • Dans l'air plein de fils de soie (Armand Silvestre)
  • Declaration (Gustave Chouquet)
  • Élégie (Louis Gallet)
  • Epitaphe (Armand Silvestre)
  • Être aimé (Jules Massenet after Victor Hugo)
  • Guitare (Victor Hugo)
  • La mort de la cigale (Maurice Fauré)
  • La Veillée du Petit Jésus (André (Theuriet)
  • La vie d'une rose, Op. 12, No. 3 (Jules Ruelle)
  • L'air du soir emportati (Armand Silvestre)
  • L'âme des oiseau (Elena Vacarescu)
  • Le portrait d'une enfant, Op. 12, No. 4 (Pierre de Ronsard)
  • Le Sais-Tu? (Stéphan Bordèse)
  • Le Sentier Perdu (Paul de Choudens)
  • Le verger (Camille Distel)
  • Les alcyons (Joseph Antoine Autran)
  • Les bois de pins (Camille Distel)
  • Les enfants
  • Les Femmes de Magdala (Louis Gallet)
  • Les mains (Noel Bazan)
  • Les Oiselets (Jacques Normand)
  • L'esclave, Op. 12, No. 1 (Théophile Gautier)
  • Lève-toi (Armand Silvestre)
  • Loin de Moi ta Lèvre Qui Ment (Jean Aicard)
  • Madrigal (Armand Silvestre)
  • Musette (Jean Pierre Claris de Florian)
  • Narcisse à la Fontaine (Paul Collin)
  • Néére (Michel Carré)
  • Nouvelle chanson sur un vieil air (Victor Hugo)
  • Nuit d'Espagne (Louis Gallet)
  • Ouvre tes yeux bleus (Paul Robiquet)
  • Pensée d'automne (Armand Silvestre)
  • Pour qu'à l'espérance (Armand Silvestre)
  • Prélude (Armand Silvestre)
  • Première Danse (Jacques Clary Jean Normand)
  • Puisqu’elle a Pris ma Vie (Paul Robiquet)
  • Que l'heure est donc brève (Armand Silvestre)
  • Rêvons, c'est l'heure (Paul Verlaine)
  • Riez-vous (Armand Silvestre)
  • Rondel de la Belle au bois (Julien Gruaz)
  • Roses d’Octobre (Paul Collin)
  • Sérénade (Moliére)
  • Sérénade aux mariés, Op. 12, No. 2 (Jules Ruelle)
  • Sérénade de Zanetto (François Coppée) *Sérénade du passant (François Coppée)
  • Si tu veux, Mignonne (Abbé Claude Georges Boyer)
  • Soir de rêve (Antonin Lugnier)
  • Soleil couchant (Victor Hugo)
  • Sonnet (Georges Pradel)
  • Sonnet matinal (Armand Silvestre)
  • Sonnet Payen (Armand Silvestre)
  • Souhait (Jacques Normand)
  • Sous les branches (Armand Silvestre)
  • Souvenez-vous, Vierge Marie! (Georges Boyer)
  • Souvenir de Venise (Alfred de Musset)
  • Stances (Gilbert)
  • Sur la source (Armand Silvestre)
  • Un adieu (Armand Silvestre)
  • Un souffle de parfums (Armand Silvestre)
  • Voici que les grans lys (Armand Silvestre)
  • Voix suprême (Antoinette Lafaix-Gontié)
  • Vous aimerez demain (Armand Silvestre)


  • Miscellaneous piano pieces
  • Massenet completed and orchestrated Léo Delibes' unfinished opera Kassya.


  • "Va! laisse couler mes larmes"
    From Werther (1892); Sung by Jeanette Ekornaasvaag.
    Pleurez, pleurez, mes yeux
    From Le Cid (1885). Sung by Marguerita Sylva in 1910.
    O souverain, O juge, O père!
    From Le Cid (1885). Sung by Enrico Caruso in 1916.
    Manon! avez-vous peur...On l'appelle Manon
    From Manon (1884), performed by Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar in 1912.
    Ah! fuyez, douce image
    From Manon (1884). Recorded in 1910 by Aristodemo Giorgini for Edison Records.
    Notre Père
    Performed by l'Atelier Vocal des Herbiers
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External links

Scores and Vocal Scores on Indiana University Bloomington Libraries:

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JULES Emile Frederic MASSENET (1842-), French composer, was born at Montaud, on the 12th of May 1842. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he obtained the Grand Prix de Rome in 1863 with the cantata David Rizzio. Massenet became one of the most prolific composers of his time. His, operas include the following: La Grande tante, one act, opera comique (1867); Don Cesar de Bazan, three acts, opera comique (1872); Le Roi de Lahore, five acts, opera (1877); Herodiade, five acts (Brussels, 1881); Manon, five acts, opera comique (1884); Le Cid, four acts, opera (1885); Esclarmonde, four acts, opera comique (1889); Le Mage, five acts, opera (1891); Werther, four acts (Vienna, 1892); Thais, three acts, opera (1894); Le Portrait de Manon, one act, opera comique (1894); La Navarraise, two acts (Covent Garden, 1894); Sapho, opera comique (1897); Cendrillon, opera comique (woo); Griselidis, opera comique (1901); Le Jongleur de Notre Dame (Mentone, 1902). Of these the most popular is Manon. Massenet's other works include Marie Madeleine, sacred drama (1873); Eve, a mystery (1875); La Vierge, sacred legend (1880); six orchestral suites entitled Scenes liongroises, Scenes pittoresques, Scenes dramatiques, Scenes napolitaines, Scenes de feerie, Scenes alsaciennes; music to the tragedy Les Erynnies, to Theodora, Le Crocodile, L'Hetman; a requiem, Narcisse; an idyll, Biblis; a Scene antique; several sets of songs, entitled Poeme d'avril, Poeme d'amour, Poeme d'hiver, Poeme d'octobre, Poeme pastoral, Poeme du souvenir; also a. large number of detached songs. He was professor of composition at the Conservatoire from 1878 to 1896, among his pupils being Hillemacher, Marty, Bruneau, Vidal, Pierne, Leroux and Charpentier. Massenet undoubtedly possesses a style of his own. He is at his best in music descriptive of the tender passion, and many of the love scenes in his operas are very beautiful.

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Simple English

Jules Massenet

Jules Massenet (born Montaud nr. Saint-Étienne, 12 May 1842; died Paris, 13 August 1912) was a French composer. He is most famous for his operas, although he wrote a large amount of other music as well.


His life

Early years

Jules’ father had a business making agricultural tools. His mother gave him his first piano lessons. In 1847 his father retired and the family moved to Paris. When he was ten years old he went to the Paris Conservatoire for piano and solfège studies. Over a period of ten years he studied there, gaining many prizes. He was taught composition by Ambroise Thomas who was an excellent music teacher.

Jules earned enough money to keep himself by giving piano lessons. He also played timpani in the orchestra of the Théâtre Lyrique. This helped him to get a good knowledge of French composers such as Gounod (especially his Faust) as well as music by Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven. He was also very keen on the music of Berlioz and Wagner.

In 1863 he won the Prix de Rome (it was his second attempt). This allowed him to spend two years in Italy. During this time he travelled a lot but hardly composed anything.

Early career

In 1866 he returned to Paris where he married. He gave piano lessons. At this stage he had hardly written anything important. However, soon he was to start writing many famous works. He became friends with other composers: Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Delibes, Lalo, Fauré, Duparc and others. Several of these people competed in writing operas for competitions. Massenet wrote several works, but he found writing operas difficult. His operas never won any prizes.

Years of fame

In 1870 he served in the National Guard during the Franco-Prussian war. After the war he continued to compose, and he became professor of composition at the Conservatoire. He spent many years working on an opera Le Roi de Lahore. This was a great success and helped him to become internationally famous. For many years he spent the winter in Paris and the summer in various places in the country where he could compose. His pupils at the Conservatoire included Pierné, Koechlin, Hahn, Enesco. In 1884 his opera Manon was produced at the Opéra-comique. This made him clearly the most famous opera composer of his time. It was an opéra-comique with some speech over the music. During the next 28 years he composed another 20 operas. Another opera that was particularly famous was Werther. It was first performed in 1892 in Vienna and a year later in Paris. It was soon being performed in all the big European opera houses.

Some of his greatest operatic roles were written for the young American soprano Sybil Sanderson. This includes the main role in his popular opera Thaïs. The story is set in Egypt and is about a monk who tries to persuade Thaïs to give up her life as a prostitute. However, he soon finds he is falling in love with her himself. This mixture of religion and salvation became an extremely popular subject for operas at that time. The Méditation from Thaïs is a short piece for violin solo. It is one of the best-loved of all Romantic violin solos.

He continued to compose lots of music even when his health was failing during his last years. He was a quiet, family man who hated it when people made a fuss about him. He liked best to spend his evenings quietly at home, or in the countryside during the summer. He continued to compose in a Romantic style to the end of his life, even though many composers around him (e.g. Debussy) were writing music which was more “modern” sounding.

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