George Bizek

Georges Bizet, who is best known for his opera, Carmen, has remained
somewhat of a mystery as far as his musical education, social life, and
personal life. He is not like so many other composers and musicians of the
Romantic Period who led a highly publicized life like Hector Berlioz, Peter
Ilyich Tchaikovsky, or Johannes Brahms. He spent his short life devoted to music
and he did not quite make it into the limelight like these other Romantic
composers. The most believable explanation for his obscurity would be the
lack of scandal in his life. He had a happy childhood, was well awarded with
musical scholarships, and a happy marriage.
Georges Bizet grew up in a musical house. His father was a singing
teacher and his mother was a well-known pianist who had attended the Paris
Conservatory. His parents encouraged him in music. His father was confident
that his son would become a great musician. His father was actually too
supportive of his musical education. He had been known to hide young Georges'
other school books so he would not be distracted from his musical studies. He
received his first music lesson from his mother when he was just four years old.
She was teaching him to read music at the same time she was teaching him his
Bizet was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory when he was nine years old.
This was a special exception arranged by his uncle who taught at the
Conservatory, since Bizet was still a year younger than the minimum age
requirement. Here he studied piano, organ, singing, harp, strings, woodwinds,
and composition. His instructors were the composers Charles Gounod, who is
known for his opera Faust, and who is considered the greatest musical influence
in Bizet's life. And Jacque Halevy, who wrote the opera LaJuive, is also
considered an important musical influence. He had a unique, unstructured
teaching style. Halevy would listen to and correct his students but he would
never require them to do any specific types of composition. This was to affect
Bizet throughout his life as he would be known to start and abandon work after
work. This was blamed directly on Halevy's lack of discipline. At age fifteen,
Halevy tried to convince Bizet to go and compete for the Prix de Rome. Bizet
refused sighting his immaturity and need for additional background.
During his time as a student he wrote Symphony in C Major (1855), which
was not performed during Bizet's lifetime, but from it's first performance in
1935 it has become an established symphony in a standard repertoire. Bizet
won a number of awards during his time at the Conservatory including First
prize in piano when he was fourteen. He also won a First Prize in fugue and
organ when he was seventeen; the year of his Symphony in C Major. Bizet
remained at the Conservatory until he was eighteen.
Bizet first competed for the Prix de Rome when he was eighteen. The
competition ended in a tie and the judges decided not to award a first prize but
two second prizes instead. Second prize was free tickets to all of the lyric
theaters in Paris. This in itself would have been a nice prize but not in
comparison to spending four years in Rome studying music. None the less, the
prize proved to be useful as Bizet's next composition turned out to be a theater
Finally on his second attempt at the coveted prize he was awarded the
Prix de Rome when he was nineteen. This prize entitled him to four years
at the Villa Medici in Rome with all expenses paid. It was in this same
year that he tied for first place in a contest sponsored by Jacques Offenbach
who was trying to raise awareness of the operetta, then very popular in
Paris. All contestants were given the same libretto, Le Docteur Miracle.
Bizet's winning composition was produced at a small Paris theater. Ten days
after his arrival in Rome Bizet was asked to play at one of the Villa Medici's
Sunday evening dinners. Of his experience Bizet said, “I had a great success,
it was the first time since M. Schnetz has been director that a musician has
been heard and applauded at the Academie. It is fair to say that there are
no pianists in Italy, and if you can play your scales with both hands you
are regarded as a great artist.” This is a great example of Bizet's modesty.
Bizet had very positive things to say about his stay in Rome. He loved the
Academie and learned to love Italy