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HALÉVY, Fromental (1799-1862)

Of Jewish descent (his father, Elias Levy, altered their surname in 1807), Halévy studied composition with Cherubini, receiving the Prix de Rome in 1819. After his stay at the Villa Medici, he travelled to Vienna where he kept company with Beethoven. He became professor of harmony and accompaniment at the Paris Conservatoire in 1827, of counterpoint and fugue in 1833, and of composition in 1840 (his pupils included Gounod, Bizet—who married his daughter Geneviève—Lecocq, Saint-Saëns, etc.). His career as a composer, pursued at the same time as his teaching work, revolved around opera, beginning in 1820 with Les Bohémiennes (lost). He had his first success with the opéra comique Le Dilettante d’Avignon in 1829, the year he was appointed chef de chant (chorus master) at the Paris Opéra (he had previously held this post at the Théâtre-Italien, which staged his Clari). In 1835, La Juive, the first work Halévy wrote for the Paris Opéra, was a triumphant success which was never to be repeated, even though the opéra comique L’Éclair (1835), and the grand operas La Reine de Chypre (1841) and Charles VI (1843) were all favourably received. Also worthy of note was his Tempestà in Italian (after Shakespeare), premiered at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London in 1850. Halévy helped to establish the genre of grand opera, achieving a synthesis of French and Italian styles which was admired by Wagner. Sainte-Beuve praised him as a musician “not neglecting grace, seeking and finding agreeably what Auber finds without looking, but above all inclined to express tenderness and passion dramatically and with great skill”. 

Prix de Rome for musical composition: second Second Prix 1816 (cantata Les Derniers Moments du Tasse, De Jouy), Second Prix 1817 (cantata La Mort d'Adonis, Vinaty), first Premier Prix 1819 (cantata Herminie, Vinaty).