Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Massenet was born in Montaud, St Étienne. When he was eleven his family moved to Paris so that he could study at the Conservatoire there. In 1862 he won a Grand Prix de Rome and spent three years in Rome. His first opera was a one-act production at the at Opéra-Comique in 1867, but it was his oratorio-drama Marie-Madeleine that won his the praise of the likes of Tchaikovsky and Gounod.
Massenet took a break from his composing to serve as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War, but returned to his art following the end of the conflict in 1871. From 1878 he was professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory where his pupils included Gustave Charpentier, Reynaldo Hahn and Charles Koechlin . His greatest successes were with Manon in 1884, Werther in 1892, and Thaïs in 1894. A notable later opera was Don Quichotte, produced in Monte Carlo 1910, with the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin in the title-role.
Massenet used Wagner's leitmotiv technique but gave it a French lightness, a style considered by some to be saccharine.
In addition to his operas, he also composed ballet music, oratorios and cantatas, orchestral works, and about two hundred songs. Some of his music has achieved widespread popularity, and is commonly performed: for example the "Meditation" from Thaïs, which is a violin solo with orchestra, and the piano Aragonaise, from his opera Le Cid , as well as the Elegie for solo piano. The latter two pieces are commonly played by piano students.
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