Georges Bizet might have become one of France's greatest composers had he not died at the tragically young age of 36. His opera, Carmen, is one of the greatest nineteenth century operas and one of the most popular ever written.
The son of musical parents, Bizet was born in Paris on 25 October 1838. His musical talents were quickly recognised and he enrolled at the Conservatoire on 9 October 1848, quickly becoming a brilliant pianist under the tutelage of Marmontel and Zimmerman.
In 1853 the young Bizet entered the composition class of Fromental Halévy and, influenced by Gounod, rapidly matured as a composer. The famous Symphony in C dates from 1855 when the composer was just 17 and demonstrates the potential of an already accomplished composer.
Having won the French Institute's Prix de Rome in 1857, Bizet spent the next four years in Italy, absorbing the Mediterranean culture and landscape. He seems to have been plagued by self-doubt during these years and completed few projects.
Returning to Paris upon hearing of his mother's illness, Bizet was greatly affected by her death in September 1861. His relationship with his father was never easy and it was further complicated by the birth of a son to the family maid, later revealed to have been fathered by Bizet. A further blow came in 1862 with the news of Halévy's death.
Bizet's creative life was one of struggle; he earned most of his living as an arranger of other composer's music and as a piano accompanist. The next few years, however, were extremely productive ones; his opera for the Théâtre Lyrique, Les pêcheurs de perles, although criticized by the press, was hailed by Berlioz and received a respectable number of performances.
Between 1864 and 1866, however, productions of his dramatic works dried up. Bizet published little and spent most of the winter working for Gounod's publisher, Choudens, as an arranger.
Carvalho, the director of the Théâtre Lyrique, always maintained his faith in Bizet's abilities, though, and in June 1866 commissioned La jolie fille de Perth. It was well received but did not attract the public; despite his restored creativity, Bizet's struggle continued.
In 1867 he became engaged to Halévy's daughter, Geneviève, but her family's disapproval of the failed composer delayed marriage until June 1869. The marriage seems to have started happily but quickly became strained as the struggle of Bizet's creative life took its toll.
The renewal of peace after the Franco-Prussian war stimulated a revival of French national music and Bizet was soon engaged on his last two masterpieces, L’arlésienne and Carmen. The former, commissioned by Bizet's loyal supporter, Carvalho, was generally ignored in its original form as incidental music, but achieved success in the form of an orchestral suite.
Carmen, chosen as a subject by Bizet in response to a commission from the Opéra-Comique, suffered a number of delays before finally being staged in March 1875. It was not a complete failure, as legend states, and ran for a respectable number of performances, but was widely slated in the press.
Disappointed, Bizet became ill with a recurrence of the quinsy that had often afflicted him before. This time, however, he also had to contend with rheumatism and, on 30 May, had two heart attacks. Weakened, he died on June third, never having witnessed the incredible popularity for Carmen that waited just around the corner.
After his death, Bizet's music suffered irreparable damage from his publisher's attempts to cash in on Carmen's success. Unauthorized versions of the music appeared, butchered and altered with new texts and titles, misrepresenting the composer's intentions. Nor can this situation ever be fully rectified, as many of the original autograph manuscripts are now lost. Bizet's struggle for recognition, it seems, continues.Show more