The French Inspired Classical Music – Part 2

In part two of our blog to find the greatest French composers that influenced the world of classical music we move on from Debussy and Berlioz and delve into the worlds of three more great French composers: Bizet, Boulanger and Ravel.

Georges Bizet

Bizet is probably one of the most gifted French composers of all time, he was a musical genius and a child prodigy. He was actually enrolled in the Conservatoire of Paris when he was just nine years old. In 1857 he was talented enough to be granted the Prix de Rome which took him to Italy for three years to study music further.

When he returned back to Paris he was inspired to write several operas and his very first symphony. These included the fantastic Pearl Fishers which stands out as one of his greatest ever pieces. Apart from his heavy load of composing, Bizet could also be heard playing piano in the salons of the time as he was a very gifted pianist.

The opera that will always be synonymous with Bizet is Carmen, and for many years he found it hard to emulate this epic work. If it was to be a one hit wonder then what a colossal hit it was, and Carmen remains one of the greatest operas that has ever been written.

Lili Boulanger

Lili Boulanger was just one of a whole big musical family where just about everybody in the household played music. Her mother and grandmother were renowned singers, father was a respected composer and her sister a talented musician.

Lili’s father died when she was really young, and it was this that influenced her to take up a composing career. And by the time she actually took up a formal musical education, she had already composed several pieces, including works for piano and religious music.

Lili suffered ill health during most of her life which interrupted her career, and the Great War also took a toll in her creativity. Nevertheless, Lili Boulanger produced some epic music, including the opera La Princesse Maleine, the unfinished Pie Jesu which was dedicated to her sister, and perhaps her greatest work Trois Psaumes.

Maurice Ravel

Born in Southern France in 1875, Ravel moved with his family to Paris when he was young where most of his musical career took place. Ravel started playing the piano at the tender age of seven and just five years later he began composing. Like most of the great French composers, Ravel studied at the Conservatoire of Paris and was heavily influenced in his piano plays by Liszt.

His studies in Paris continued on for an incredible fourteen years as he enjoyed the company of many fellow composers and musicians and was reluctant to move away from this circle of friends. Ravel enjoyed the Impressionist movement along with the likes of Claude Debussy, but unlike the former he was far more structured in his composing.

His first opera is now considered a masterpiece, Daphnis et Cloe which took an amazing three years to complete.  In 1928 after a dispute with the French musical establishment, he toured America to rave reviews and it was during this period that he composed his finest work, Bolero. The composers in our blog highlight the influence French music had on classical music as a whole, which covered many different periods and fashions.