Biography of Alexandre-César-Léopold Bizet (1838-1875)

Alejandro César Leopoldo Bizet.

French composer, born on October 25, 1838 in Paris and died on June 3, 1875 in Bougival (France), whose works are characterized by a great melodic elegance and a very successful orchestration.


Belonging to a family of musicians, Bizet was admitted to the Paris Conservatory when he was nine years old. There he studied counterpoint with Zimmerman, composition with Jacques Halévy and Gounod, piano with Marmontel. In 1855, when he was still a student at the Conservatory, he composed his Symphony in c, a work of great artistic maturity with influences of his teacher Gounod, which did not debut until 1935. His first work for the stage was the comic opera La maison du docteur, based on a libretto by Henri Boisseaux.

In 1856 the Les Bouffes Parisiens theatre of the gala capital convened a prize of Operetta thanks to the efforts of Offenbach, who was trying to give this genre's most prestigious. It was music to the libretto of Le Docteur Miracle of Léon Battu and Ludovic Halévy - who later would also write of Carmen-. Bizet and Alexander Lecocq won the prize ex-aequo, and both saw represented his operettas in 1857 during eleven times. That same year won the prestigious Prix de Rome, which led him to stay in the Italian capital during three years Bizet. There he composed the opera buffa Don Procopio, who has certain similarities with Don Pasquale by Donizetti, and outlined other compositions which did not end, as it would happen it on several occasions throughout his life.

In 1861 he settled in Paris, and to finalize their commitments with the Prix de Rome, he composed the Symphonic Vasco de Gama and the opera in an act the gusle l´Emir, which did not see released. In 1863, the director of the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, Léon Carvalho, offered one hundred thousand francs to the winner of a prize of Rome that composed an opera. Bizet was awarded the prize for his work the fishermen of pearls, made in just four months. Léon Carvalho followed by depositing your trust in him and commissioned the opera Ivan IV, who did not finish. Until 1867 he did not complete his next opera, La Jolie Fille de Perth. The work, based on a novel by Walter Scott received good reviews, although it remained only poster during eighteen performances.

The following year he suffered an attack of angina and is restated their religiosity and their ideas about music. At that time started projects which would not end as Les templiers, Vercingetorix (opera about Gaul in Roman times) or Clarisa Harlowe. In June 1869 he married Geneviève Halévy, daughter of his first teacher of composition.

In 1871 the Opéra-Comique Theatre refused the Grisélidis opera but commissioned him to change the composition of Djamileh, a play in one act with libretto by Louis Gallet based on a history of Turkish aires. Subsequently harvested successes with the orchestral suite L'Arlessienne (1872) and as last works composed the operas Don Rodrigue (1873), the Overture Patrie (1873) and opera Carmen (1873-74), based on the novel by Prosper Mérimée. The score was premiered on March 3, 1875, at the Opéra-Comique and was censored by their dramatic audacities and erotic character. However, received an excellent reception among the public and received praise from figures such as Brahms and Nietzsche. Bizet died without being able to taste the success of Carmen, which was made famous in a later revised by Ernest Guiraud in where spoken dialogs were replaced by recitatives.


Bizet compositional career was very uneven. His operas, with the exception of Carmen, are irregular with respect to the quality, particularly by the choice of unsuitable scripts which prevented him to fully develop their talents. In spite of this, stands out as one of the greatest orchestrators in the history of music and for having managed to melt masterfully musical traditions of Mozart and Rossini with a new realistic style and sometimes folk flavor.

After a time trying to adapt to the Germanic motives, he returned to its origins around 1870. By temperament light adapted more easily to comic opera that to great opera, although it introduced in the elements that transcended the tone essentially and frivolous that hitherto had possessed. His works are characterized by a great melodic elegance, a very successful orchestration, some exoticism and a great economy of means. This balance between dramatic and symphonic elements reminiscent of the works of Mozart.

In his masterpiece Carmen, Bizet continues the tradition initiated by Daniel Auber and Jacques Halévy, but transcends it and revitalizes making it more realistic. It manages to give a convincing Spanish color to the libretto by Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy and gives importance to certain motives that are present throughout the entire work. Carmen is structured in four acts and its main characters are the Gypsy Carmen and the Cape Don José, who has to be interpreted by a spinto tenor (see tenor). The most famous pieces are the habanera L´amour est an oiseau rebelle of Act I and the song, and "March of the Toreadors" in the second Act.

Links on the internet ; web page that includes the libretto of Carmen, as well as detailed information about this opera. ; official website of the Opera Comique in Paris. In French.

Selected discography

-Carmen (complete opera). Performers: Jessye Norman, Neil Shicoff, Simon Estes, Mirella Freni, National Orchestra of France. Director: Seiji Ozawa. PHILIPS 422 366-2. -Carmen (complete opera). Performers: Horne, McCracken, Maliponte, Krause Mannhattan Opera Chorus, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Director: Leonard Bernstein. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 427 440-2-Carmen (complete opera). Cast: Teresa Berganza, Plácido Domingo, Ileana Cotrubas, Sherril Milnes, Yvonne Kenny, Alicia Nafe, Ambrosian Singers, London Symphony Orchestra. Director: Claudio Abbado. DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON (1977)-Carmen (Suites 1 and 2); L´Arlesienne (Suites 1 and 2). Performers: Orchestre National de Lille. Director: Jean-Claude Casadesus. FLN 16533. -Carmen (Suites); L´arlesienne (Suites). Performers: Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Director: Charles Dutoit. DECCA 466 421-2. -Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Performers: Pierrette Alarie, Léopold Simoneau, René Bianco, Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux. Director: Jean Fournet. PHILIPS 434 782-2. -Symphony in c major; Jolie fille de Perth. Performers: Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Director: Charles Dutoit. DECCA 452 102-2.


GALLET, Louis and STRICKER, Rémy. Georges Bizet 1838-1875. Paris: Gallimard, 1999.

McCLARY, Susan. Georges Bizet: Carmen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.