Halevy, Jacques François Fromenthal Elie

1799-1862

Born in Paris of Jewish parents, whose family name was Levi. His father was a Bavarian by birth, and was greatly honored by the French Hebrews for his fine character and learning. His mother was born in Lorraine. He was sent to the Conservatory when only ten years old. He studied under Cazot, piano from Lambert, harmony under Berton and composition under Cherubim. Halevy was a hard worker and very ambitious, taking a prize in solfeggio and the second prize in harmony. At seventeen he took the second Grand Prize of Rome for his cantata, Les Dermeres mo- ments de Tasse. In 1819 he succeeded in getting the Grand Prize itself for his cantata, Hermime. He then spent four years in Rome. Before going to Rome he set to music the Hebrew text of De Profundis for the funeral ot the Due de Berri. Upon his return from Italy he tried again and again to gain recognition from the stage. Finally his L' Artisan was accepted and produced, but was received with scarcely any enthusiasm. Later appeared Clari, a three-act opera, his best work up to this time. He was appointed, in 1829, to share Herold's duties at the Theatre Italien, and the same year produced his Le Dilettante d'Avigon, a parody on Italian opera librettos, which became very popular, especially the Vive, vive 1'Italie of the chorus, which was hummed and whistled everywhere.

He strove almost desperately for recognition, but opera after opera gained only partial success. Suddenly, in 1835, La Juive, a grand opera in five acts, was given at the Grand Opera, and Halevy, like Byron, awoke to find himself famous. Every opera house in Europe was opened to him, and he was hailed with wild enthusiasm. In the same year appeared L'ficlair, a musical comedy for two tenors and two sopranos, without choruses. He never again produced the equal of these two works, though many of his works are meritorious, among his best being La Reine de Chypre, Charles VI. and Les Mousquetaires de la Reine. His music is characterized by a fondness for a soft pianissimo effect, long held, to be regularly and suddenly opposed by a loud crash, but in all his scores his fine genius is manifested. He held an important professorship at the Conservatory. His book of instruction, Legons de lecture musicale, published in 1857, remains (revised) the accepted textbook for teaching solfeggio in the primary schools of Paris. His daughter married Bizet, one of his pupils, Others among his distinguished pupils were Gounod, Victor Masse and Bazin. In 1854 he was made permanent secretary of the Academic des Beaux Arts. In spite of his genius and the number of works produced by Halevy, he made no lasting impression on the music of the day. Heavy work undermined his strength, and, in 1861, he went to Nice. He did not improve, and died March 17, 1862, and was buried in Paris with much pomp. La Juive was given at the Grand Opera in honor of his memory, and his bust, modeled by his widow, was crowned on the stage.