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Learn About the French Composer, Georges Bizet's Works and Life

Georges Bizet: Overview

  • Born: October 25, 1838 - Paris
  • Died: June 3, 1875 - Bougival, France
  • Historical Period: the Romantic era
  • Musical Media: opera, orchestra, keyboard, choral, songs
    French composer, Georges Bizet

    Georges Bizet who was born Alexandre-César-Léopold Bizet in 1838 in Paris, is famous mostly for Carmen, his opera, first performed in 1875. A French composer of the Romantic era, Bizet’s realistic approach left a lasting impression on the Verismo School of Opera in the 19th century.

    After just three months of Carmen’s premiere, in 1875, Bizet died from a massive heart attack at the young age of 36.

    Some of his notable works are:

    • Operas such as The Pearl Fishers, The Fair Maid of Perth, Djamileh, 
    • Carmen (his most famous opera)
    • Symphony in C 
    • Rome Suite 
    • L'Arlésienne 
    • Chromatic Variations
    • Jeux d'Enfants or Children’s Games

    Georges Bizet: The Unrealized Potential of A Gifted Composer

    Music was in Bizet’s blood, with his father, a singing teacher and his mother, a talented pianist. With rapidly emerging talent, Bizet was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire before he was ten. 

    Georges Bizet studied music under masters like Pierre Zimmermann, Antoine François Marmontel, and François Benoist. After Pierre Zimmermann passed away, Fromental Halévy took over. Bizet received first prize for organ and fugue playing in 1855. Some of his earliest and novel compositions came while he was at the Conservatoire. His prizes included the coveted Prix de Rome which he got in 1857 for his cantata Clovis et Clotilde

    His one-act operetta Le docteur Miracle was performed in 1857 and is noted by many for its high spirits and energy. He also wrote the Symphony in C Major in 1855, at the age of 17, but this was not performed till long after in 1935. 

    Bizet wrote in a fashion that was unique in his way. His operas tend to be highly dramatic with complex emotions being integral in his work. Though staying true to his French roots, it is presumed that he was also influenced by Verdi and Wagner respectively. Fickle minded in his approach to many of his pieces which remain unfinished, he was sensitive to the criticism of his pieces. 

    Les Pêcheurs de perles (1863) with its exotic setting and La Jolie Fille de Perth (1867) with an indirect resemblance to Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Fair Maid of Perth, were further attempts toward realizing his musical potential. However, these didn’t do justice to Bizet’s actual charisma and genius that would be revealed posthumously. 

    The year 1869 saw Georges Bizet marry Geneviève Halévy. She was incidentally the daughter of Fromental Halévy, Bizet’s one-time teacher. The Franco-Prussian War in 1870 delayed several of his pending pieces when he joined the national guard. The composer had his only son with his wife Geneviève in 1871. The couple named him Jacques. 

    In that same year, Bizet accepted the post of chorus master at The Opéra and was subsequently replaced by Hector Salomon. Mina Curtis wrote in her biography of the eminent composer that it was either a resignation or a refusal to accept the post. The cause for this is ascertained to be a protest against the premature closing of Ernest Reyer's opera Erostrate after a couple of shows. 

    The next compositions were the piano duet Jeux d'enfants, and Djamileh, which was a one-act opera. This was staged at the Opéra Comique in the year 1872. Poorly received due to horrid performances, these compositions didn’t gain prominence until 1938.

    In 1872 Bizet’s incidental music for Alphonse Daudet’s play, L’Arlésienne came out which signifies the perfect marriage of tenderness and class in Bizet’s repertoire. 

    Then, the last composition and the most famous work of Georges Bizet is the opera, Carmen. It is different from the traditional opera of his time. Extremely passionate about a very realistic story, this was a very different composition than what was the norm in those days. Bizet put a lot of stress and attention on the element of story-telling while composing Carmen. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy wrote the libretto which was again based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée. Bizet’s idea for Carmen was a mix of colors and rhythm. The composer had apparently borrowed the Habanera theme from a Spanish composer, where the former thought it was a traditional Spanish piece. Carmen is a story about the Spanish namesake, who is a gypsy girl working in a cigarette factory. A seductress, she enamors the soldier Don Jose but then spurns him for Escamillo, a matador. This ultimately results in her murder at the hands of Don Jose.

    Bizet died of a heart attack in Bougival, when he was just 36 years old. Speculations suggested that Élie-Miriam Delaborde, was indirectly responsible for the composer’s demise as there was a swimming competition between them prior to Bizet falling ill from fever, which led to his death.

    Georges Bizet was, without doubt, a man of great faculties in the field of music. His contribution, though limited due to his untimely death, has left a lasting impression on the musical scene. He had once said that the only way to truly succeed was to either be a German or dead. Ironically and tragically, he received most of his fame, posthumously, particularly for Carmen.


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