Georges Bizet: Carmen Suite Number 1

Georges Bizet, who was born in Paris in 1838, was considered a great prodigy as a child and by the age of 17 had written his first symphony. In his life he produced some 150 pieces for his instrument, the piano. Unfortuantely, after his initial good success, he produced a string of works that have faded into obscurity. Among these were a number of operas, which suffered from weak librettos.

Bizet was a plump gourmand and supposedly could be seen often scoffing down some bonbon or small cake on the streets of the suburb of Paris where he lived. Around the age of 34, he started composing operas which caught the attention of the critics, and finally produced the work for which he is universally known, Carmen. Carmen tells the story of a loose “gypsy” woman who works in a cigarette factory. She plays one lover against the other and is eventually killed by one. Bizet’s opera first did not thrill the critics. The morals of the girl was quite shocking, even for Parisian. It did catch on and is now one of the best loved of all the operas in the repertoire. Unfortunately, Bizet did not live to see its success. He died of a heart attack after its 31st performance at the age of 36. A few years later, it was being mounted in every major opera house in Europe.

I will probably write more about different arias from the opera later, because it is filled with such wonderful music that can stand on its own. The Suite N. 1 is a good introduction to it and contains the major themes.


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

9 Responses to Georges Bizet: Carmen Suite Number 1

  1. kvennarad says:

    Just thinking of lousy librettos, that never hurt Purcell (Nahum Tate’s libretto for ‘Dido and Aeneas’ was a stinker) but of course these were different eras and there were different expectations. ‘Carmen’ is brilliant. “Toréador en garde…”

    My favourite piece of music by Bizet is the ‘Carillon’ from ‘L’Arlesienne’. The simple three-bell peal is heard over the fields, sometimes muted by a stand of trees; or in the village streets by interposed buildings. It is an irrepressibly joyful piece of music, and one of the few pieces of music that uses a sound associated with the solemnity of religion to express simple, unalloyed, carnal happiness. The emotions of the listener are expressed by the wonderful melody on the strings over the repeated peals from the brass, and there are moments of gentle reflection in there while the bell-ringers rest, or the listener/musician is lost in his own thoughts before the bells intrude again and the melody is taken up in the woodwind section, like a folk tune…

    I get a similar buzz from Sibelius’s ‘Karelia’ suite, and a little from the March from Trevor Duncan’s ‘Little Suite’ – do you know that one? – which cannot be heard without evoking a popular British TV series from the 1960’s (‘Dr Findlay’s Casebook’ – adapted from A J Cronin’s ‘Adventures of a Black Bag’) and of course it has lovely, homely, Scottish associations.


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