Massenet, Jules

Jules MassenetJules 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, Massenet’s 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 operas of his such as Thaïs and Esclarmonde have undergone periodic revivals.

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.

There have been periodic performances and recordings of Massenet’s orchestral music, especially the seven suites. Naxos has issued the complete suites, as well as ballet music from Herodiade, as performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jean-Yves Ossonce.

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

Being a very prolific, hard-working composer (over 25 extant operas, with his daily schedule starting frequently from as early as 4 am), 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.

The only known recording by Massenet is a scene from Sapho where he accompanies the soprano Georgette Leblanc on the piano; never published, it is in the Historical Sound Recordings collection of Yale University.

 

Jules Massenet – Wikipedia