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Jules (Emile Frédéric) Massenet

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Jules Massenet, born on 12 May 1842, entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of eleven, and by 1863 had won the Prix de Rome for his cantata David Rizzio.  During the resultant stay at the Villa Medici in Rome, where he spent some of the happiest years of his life and enjoyed all the refined spiritual pleasures of a true artist, he made the acquaintance of many talented musicians, including Liszt.  Returning to France, Massenet found himself defending Paris during the siege of 1870, before settling down to teach at the Conservatoire, writing operas and enjoying his popularity.  He died on 13 August 1912, mourned by many.

Initial success came with the one-act opera La Grand' Tante (1867), followed by Don César de Bazan (1872) and Marie-Magdeleine (1873).  His greatest successes though were Le Roi de Lahore (1877), Manon (1884), Le Cid (1885), Werther (1892), The Juggler of Notre Dame (1902), and Don Quichotte (1910) - from a total of twenty-seven operas.  Although thought of mainly as a composer of operas, Massenet also wrote ballets, orchestral and choral music, a piano concerto, cantatas, a cello fantasy, and some 200 songs.

For many years Massenet held a dominant position in French opera, although Debussy began to steal the limelight when his Pelléas et Mélisande was shown in 1902 (a work that owed a lot to Massenet).  Massenet's style is very melodic, quite light, its singability no doubt a factor in its huge popularity at the time.

Related composers: Liszt, Debussy, Wagner

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