Biography of Bizet

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(born Paris, 25 October 1838; died Bougival, 3 June 1875).

He was trained by his parents, who were musical, and admitted to the Paris Conservatoire just before his tenth birthday. There he studied counterpoint with Zimmerman and Gounod and composition with Halevy, and under Marmontel's tuition he became a brilliant pianist. Bizet's exceptional powers as a composer are already apparent in the products of his Conservatoire years, notably the Symphony in C, a work of precocious genius dating from 1855 (but not performed until 1935). In 1857 Bizet shared with Lecocq a prize offered by Offenbach for a setting of the one-act operetta Le Docteur Miracle; later that year he set out for Italy as holder of the coveted Prix de Rome.

During his three years in Rome Bizet began or projected many compositions; only four survive, including the opera buffa, Don Procopio (not performed until 1906). Shortly after his return to Paris, in September 1861, his mother died; the composer consoled himself with his parents' maid, by whom he had a son in June 1862.

He rejected teaching at the Conservatoire and the temptation to become a concert pianist, and completed his obligations under the terms of the Prix de Rome. The last of these, a one-act opéra comique, La guzla de l'emir, was rehearsed at the Opéra-Comique in 1863 but withdrawn when the Théâtre-Lyrique director, who had been offered 100 000 francs to produce annually an opera by a Prix de Rome winner who had not had a work staged, invited Bizet to compose Les pêcheurs de perles.

Bizet completed it in four months. It was produced in September 1863, but met with a generally cool reception: an uneven work, with stiff characterization, it is notable for the skilful scoring of its exotic numbers. In the ensuing...