Nineteenth-century French composer Georges Bizet is a landmark figure in French opera. His opera Carmen is one of the most frequently-performed operas in the world.
Bizet was born into a musical family. At the age of nine, he entered the Paris conservatoire, where he studied composition with Halevy, harmony with Zimmerman and organ with Besnoit. He also met, and became a fervent admirer of, Charles Gounod. He even worked alongside Gounod as an arranger and rehearsal conductor, and, with Gounod's guidance, got to know the world of artists.
With a string of awards to his name, Bizet tried his hand at operetta and won first prize in the competition organised by Offenbach for the opening of the Bouffes-Parisiens theatre.
After being awarded the Prix de Rome for his cantata Clovis et Clothilde, he spent some time at the Villa Medici, composing and becoming immersed in the atmosphere of Rome, for which he later composed the "Roma" Symphony. On his return to Paris, as a pianist envied by the virtuoso Liszt, he began transcribing works for piano to guarantee a modicum of income.
After the war of 1870, he became chorus master at the opera, then singing master at the Opéra-Comique, which commissioned him to compose Carmen. Tchaikovsky prophetically announced that "within 10 years, Carmen will be the most famous opera on earth".
Brahms attended about 20 performances and Saint-Saëns wrote to Bizet to congratulate him. Early performances of the opera did not meet with unanimous praise, however: the director of the Opéra-Comique and the conformist bourgeoisie of the time were infuriated by the scandalous Carmen. It was a few months after the premiere before its success became apparent, and Bizet died shortly afterwards.
Described by Nietzche as a "Mediterranean" artist, Bizet managed to very aptly portray the different atmospheres and cultures in the south of France (L’Arlésienne), Andalusian Spain (Carmen) and the Magheb (Djamileh) without having left Paris. Bizet's bold and brilliant use of compositional techniques displays a certain disregard for musical academicism; he takes liberties with tonality and adopts the motto "dissonance above all".
Six key works by Bizet:
1855: Symphony in C major
1863: The Pearl Fishers
1867: The Fair Maid of Perth
1872: L’Arlésienne, suite for orchestra
1875: Carmen (3 March)
Six landmark dates in the life of Bizet:
1848: Bizet passed the Conservatoire entrance exam and was accepted to study piano with Antoine-François Marmontel
1857: awarded the Prix de Rome for the cantata Clovis et Clotilde
1869: married Geneviève Halévy, with whom he had a son
1870 war: joined the Garde Nationale
1872: singing master at the Opéra-Comique
1946: posthumous first performance of the opera Ivan the Terrible