BIOGRAPHY

(b New Orleans23 June 1837d Paris6 May 1892). French composer. He was the son of the composer Jean-Baptiste-Louis Guiraud (1803–c1864), a pupil of Le Sueur and Reicha who won the Prix de Rome in 1827 in competition with Berlioz and later emigrated to New Orleans. Ernest went to Paris at the age of 12; in April 1853 his opera David, on a libretto set by Mermet in 1846, was played in New Orleans, but in 1854 he was back in Paris, assisting Berlioz with the performance of L’enfance du Christ. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Marmontel and Halévy and was a classmate of Bizet. His op.1 is a virtuoso piano sonata composed at this time. He won a premier prix for piano in 1858 and the Prix de Rome for composition (Bajazet et le joueur de flûte) in 1859. In Rome he renewed his friendship with Bizet, the laureate of two years earlier, and they remained close friends until Bizet’s death. On a journey together through Italy in 1860 Bizet described Guiraud as ‘so nice, so friendly; in his approach to life, to playing and to music he is a little soft, a little apathetic. I am trying to liven him up a bit’. Guiraud is now best known for the recitatives he added to Carmen for the Vienna production of 1875 and for his arrangement of the second suite from L’arlésienne. But he composed a great deal himself, mainly for the stage. Most of his operas are in lighter forms, not exceptionally brilliant or successful, though well appreciated in their time. The one exception is Frédégonde, a grander, more ambitious work on a fashionably legendary subject, and in a markedly more modern style, left unfinished at his death. It was completed by Saint-Saëns and orchestrated by Dukas, but was not well received in 1895. A more distinctive style is to be seen in his orchestral music, especially the Ouverture d’Arteveld and the two suites, all worthy contributions to the revival of French orchestral music after 1870. The symphonic poem Chasse fantastique (1887) also deserves to be heard. Guiraud’s fame rests on his contacts with other composers. Apart from Bizet these include Offenbach (whose Contes d’Hoffmann he orchestrated), Debussy and Dukas (both of whom studied composition with him). He was professor of harmony and accompaniment at the Conservatoire from 1876 and of composition from 1880 until his death. He liked Debussy, but was barely able to grasp his brilliant pupil’s new ideas of harmony and colour. Just before his death he published a Traité pratique de l’instrumentation (Paris, 1892).

 

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