1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Delibes, Clément Philibert Léo
DELIBES, CLÉMENT PHILIBERT LÉO (1836-1891), French composer, was born at Saint Germain du Val on the 21st of February 1836. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Adolphe Charles Adam, through whose influence he became accompanist at the Théâtre Lyrique. His first essay in dramatic composition was his Deux sous de charbon (1853), and during several years he produced a number of operettas. His cantata Alger was heard at the Paris opera in 1865. Having become second chorus master at the Grand Opéra, he wrote the music of a ballet entitled La Source for this theatre, in collaboration with Minkous, a Polish composer. La Source was produced with great success in 1866. The composer returned to the operetta style with Malbrouk s’en va-t-en guerre,—written in collaboration with Georges Bizet, Émile Jonas and Legouix, and given at the Théâtre de l’Athénée in 1867. Two years later came L’Écossais de Chatou, a one-act piece, and La Cour du roi Pétaud, a three-act opera-bouffe. The ballet Coppélia was produced at the Grand Opéra on the 25th of May 1870 with enormous success.
Delibes gave up his post as second chorus master at the Grand Opéra in 1872 when he married the daughter of Mademoiselle Denain, formerly an actress at the Comédie Française. In this year he published a collection of graceful melodies including Myrto, Les Filles de Cadiz, Bonjour, Suzon and others. His first important dramatic work was Le Roi l’a dit, a charming comic opera, produced on the 24th of May 1873 at the Opéra Comique. Three years later, on the 14th of June 1876, Sylvia, a ballet in three acts, one of the composer’s most delightful works, was produced at the Grand Opéra. This was followed by La Mort d’Orphée, a grand scena produced at the Trocadéro concerts in 1878; by Jean de Nivelle, a three-act opera brought out at the Opéra Comique on the 8th of March 1880; and by Lakmé, an opera in three acts produced at the same theatre on the 14th of April 1883. Lakmé has remained his most popular opera. The composer died in Paris on the 16th of January 1891, leaving Kassya, a four-act opera, in an unfinished state. This work was completed by E. Guiraud, and produced at the Opéra Comique on the 21st of March 1893. In 1877 Delibes became a chevalier of the Legion of Honour; in 1881 he became a professor of advanced composition at the Conservatoire; in 1884 he took the place of Victor Massé at the Institut de France.
Leo Delibes was a typically French composer. His music is light, graceful and refined. He excelled in ballet music, and Sylvia may well be considered a masterpiece. His operas are constructed on a conventional pattern. The harmonic texture, however, is modern, and the melodic invention abundant, while the orchestral treatment is invariably excellent.