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MASSENET, Jules (1842-1912)

After piano studies at the Paris Conservatoire, crowned by a premier prix in 1859, Massenet obtained the Grand Prix de Rome in 1863. Following his three years in Rome, he was commissioned to compose his first opera, a one-act opéra-comique entitled La Grand’ Tante, which was well received on its first performance in 1867. His incidental music for Les Érinnyes (Leconte de Lisle, 1873) and his oratorios Marie-Magdeleine (1873) and Ève (1875) won him much praise, and henceforth he devoted himself above all to opera. Always keen to try something new, Massenet dealt with a wide diversity of subjects: exoticism in Le Roi de Lahore (1877) and Le Mage (1891), the fantastic element in Esclarmonde (1889), naturalism in La Navarraise (1894) and Sapho (1897), fairy tale in Cendrillon (1899), legend in Thaïs (1894) and Grisélidis (1901), the medieval and the religious in Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame (1902), mythology in Ariane (1906) and Bacchus (1909) and heroic tragicomedy in Don Quichotte (1910). He also took inspiration from famous literary works for Le Cid (1885), Manon (1884) and Werther (1892). Massenet was skilled in the psychological portrayal of character and he knew how to pace his works: precious gifts in one dedicated to the composition of operas. He was also a fine melodist, charming audiences with his subtle harmony and refined orchestration, always appropriate to the dramatic situation. Massenet composed piano pieces, sacred works and art songs (mélodies), and he also contributed to the revival of symphonic music in France through works such as his six orchestral suites entitled Scènes.