Lived 1842 – 1912
Mostly in Paris
Best known for Manon, Werther, Thaïs(particularly the Méditation), Don Quichotte
Similar to Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Thomas, Verdi, late Meyerbeer
Around the turn of the 20th century, the lively French opera scene was dominated by Jules Massenet. Prolific and popular, he had many international successes to his credit, including Manon, Wertherand Thaïs. One of his operas, La Navarraise, even premiered at London’s Covent Garden in 1894 – a rare honour for a non-British composer and a significant marker of his high status at the time. Yet when he published his memoirs in 1912, the year of his death, Massenet concluded them with an odd chapter entitled ‘Thoughts after Death’, which includes snatches of conversation overheard in a theatre in the wake of his demise. One reads, “Now that he is dead, they’ll play him less, won’t they?”
The composer’s fears proved accurate. With the changes wrought by the arrival of modernism (Stravinsky’s Rite of Springenjoyed its notorious premiere in Paris in 1913), World War I, and the maturing of a new generation of composers, Massenet’s music suddenly seemed old-fashioned. Though a handful of his works were not entirely forgotten, at least in France, the bulk...