Georges Bizet

On this date in 1838, composer Georges Bizet, ne Alexandre Cesar Leopold Bizet, was born in Paris. The musical prodigy entered the Paris Conservatoire at age nine. Over the next decade Bizet won virtually every prize available, including the Prix de Rome. Bizet refused a career as a concert pianist in order to compose operas. He wrote about 30, none particularly successful, until he composed "Carmen" in 1875, based on Prosper Merimee's book about a Spanish gypsy girl. "Carmen" was controversial not only because of its humble subject matter and passionate sweep, but for the fact that the libretto was written in French, and (scandalously) could be understood by the audience. Criticism and a lukewarm reception closed the play after a brief run, although the composers of Bizet's day praised it. The dejected composer, who suffered from ill health, died of a heart attack three months later at the age of 36, never knowing "Carmen" would become the best-known, best-loved and most produced opera in history. Bizet also wrote "Jeux d'Enfants," 12 charming piano duets. Bizet was a rationalist. As a young man, struggling with his religious and philosophical views, Bizet was asked by his Academy to write a Mass. Preferring to write a comedy, he replied: "I don't want to write a mass before being in a state to do it well, that is a Christian. I have therefore taken a singular course to reconcile my ideas with the exigencies of Academy rules. They ask me for something religious: very well, I shall do something religious, but of the pagan religion. . . . I have always read the ancient pagans with infinite pleasure, while in Christian writers I find only system, egoism, intolerance, and a complete lack of artistic taste." D. 1875.

“Religion is a means of exploitation employed by the strong against the weak; religion is a cloak of ambition, injustice and vice . . . . Truth breaks free, science is popularized, and religion totters; soon it will fall, in the course of centuries--that is, tomorrow. . . . In good time we shall only have to deal with reason.”

—Georges Bizet, from Bizet, by William Dean. Colier Books, 1962

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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