Giacomo Meyerbeer, classical music composer

Giacomo Meyerbeer


Giacomo Meyerbeer was born Jacob Liebmann Beer on September 5th, 1791 into a wealthy Jewish family in Tasdorf, near Berlin. Showing an early talent for music, Beer began taking piano lessons with Franz Lauska, a former pupil of Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. After Beer showcased his talents before an elderly Muzio Clementi, the old master was persuaded to give the boy lessons himself even though he had long given up teaching. In 1801, Beer made his public debut as a pianist, performing Mozart's Piano Concerto in D minor in Berlin to favorable reviews. Determined to pursue a career in music, Beer was nevertheless torn between performing and composition. Though he was considered a virtuosic pianist, he ultimately chose composition and became one of Europe's greatest opera composers.

Studying with Antonio Salieri and Carl Friedrich Zelter, whose other pupils were to include both Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Beer began his pursuit of composition. However, he abandoned his lessons with them and instead travelled to Italy to acquire a greater understanding of Italian opera. During his time in Italy, he adopted "Giacomo" as his first name and later added "Meyer" to his surname after the death of his great-grandfather. He became acquainted with Gioachino Rossini and was impressed with his operas. Though other operas preceded it, Meyerbeer's first significant success came with Il crociato in Egitto, which premiered in Venice in 1824 with productions in London and Paris the following year.

Other successful operas soon followed, including Robert le diable, produced in Paris in 1831, one of the earliest examples of grand opera and which cemented Meyerbeer as Europe's most famous opera composer. Combining emotionally charged music with melodramatic plots, Meyerbeer produced other hugely successful operas including Les Huguenots, Le proph├Ęte and L'Africaine, though the latter was actually produced posthumously. With the exception of the years between 1842 and 1848 when Meyerbeer served as the Prussian General Music Director and Court composer in Berlin, he remained in Paris until his death on May 2nd, 1864.

Following Meyerbeer's death, his operas gradually diminished in popularity due, in no small part, to the efforts of Richard Wagner. Though Wagner learned much from Meyerbeer and was even indebted to him for securing a production of Rienzi in Dresden, he was nevertheless resentful of Meyerbeer's continuous success and, much to Wagner's discredit, his Jewish background. After the success of Le proph├Ęte, Wagner reissued his infamous essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (Judaism in Music) with a more direct and personal attack against Meyerbeer. Compounded with growing German anti-Semitism, the exorbitant costs required to stage Meyerbeer's operas further led to their absence in the repertoire. Needless to say, with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, Meyerbeer's music was banned. In recent years, however, his operas have undergone somewhat of a revival with several successful performances.

Composer Title Date Action
Giacomo Meyerbeer Valse Infernal from Robert le Diable 01/27/2009 Play Add to playlist