1902 Encyclopedia > Fromental Halévy

Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy
(usually known as: Fromental Halévy)
French composer

JACQUES FRANCOIS FROMENTAL HALÉVY (1799-1862), a celebrated French musician, was born May 27, 1799, at Paris. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Berton and Cherubini, and in 1819 gained the grand prix de Rome with a cantata called Herminie. In accordance with the conditions of his scholarship he started for Borne, where he devoted himself to the study of Italian music, and wrote an opera and various minor works. His first opera produced in Paris after his return from Italy was called L'Artisan, which saw the light at the Theatre Feydeau in 1827, apparently without much success. Other works of minor importance, and now forgotten, followed, amongst which only a ballet named Manon Lescaut, produced in 1830, deserves mention. Five years later, in 1835, Halévy produced the tragic opera La Juive and the comic opera L'Eclair, and on these works his immortality is mainly founded. Both have kept the stage to the present day, and will probably survive changes of taste even greater than those which music has undergone in France during the last forty years. The Jewess is in every way representative of the French grand-opéra, the modern outgrowth of Gluck's music-drama with a strong admixture of the Italian element and of an excess of spectacular splendour wholly strange to the classic simplicity of the original. It is curious that the grand-opéra, although an essentially national product of France, was both initiated and brought to its highest perfection by two Germans— Gluck and Meyerbeer. The genius of the latter was fatal to Halévy's fame. By the side of the Huguenots the merits of La Juive appear in almost diminutive proportions. At the same time Halévy's work ought not to be treated with contempt. It is full of fine dramatic features, and especially the introduction of the Jewish element—with which Halévy, himself a Jew, was well acquainted—gives a peculiar interest on this score. L'Éclair is a curiosity of musical literature. It is written for two tenors and two soprani, without a chorus, and displays the composer's mastery over the most refined effects of instrumentation and vocalization in a favourable light. After these two works, to which Halévy owed his fame and his seat at the Institute, he wrote numerous operas of various genres, amongst which only La Heine de Chypre, a spectacular piece analysed by Wagner in one of his Paris letters (1841), and La Tempesta, in 3 acts, written for Her Majesty's Theatre, London (1850), need be productive work Halevy also rendered valuable services as a teacher. He was professor at the Conservatoire from 1827 till his death—some of the most successful amongst the younger composers in France, such as Gounod, Victor Masse, and Georges Bizet, the author of Carmen, being amongst his pupils. Halévy also tried his hand at literature, and there exists an agreeable volume of Souvenirs et Portraits from his pen. He died at Nice, March 17, 1862.

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