A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Massé, Felix

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MASSE, Felix Marie Victor, born at Lorient March 7, 1822; entered the Conservatoire at 12, obtained the first prizes for piano, harmony, and fugue, and in 1844, after some years study with Halévy, the 'Grand prix de Rome' for composition. His cantata 'Le Rénégat' was given 3 times at the Opéra (Feb. 1845), a rare event. During his stay in Rome he composed a 'Messe Solennelle,' performed at the church of St. Louis des Francais (May 1, 1846), a careful and clever work, though wanting in religious sentiment—never Massé's strong point. The unpublished score is in the library of the Conservatoire. After his two years in Rome he travelled through Italy and Germany, and returned to Paris, where he was much appreciated in society. Publishers readily accepted his 'Mélodies' and 'Romances,' and he gained access to the stage with little delay. 'La Chanteuse voilée,' 1 act (Opéra Comique, Nov. 26, 1850), was followed by 'Galathée,' 2 acts (April 14, 1852), and 'Les Noces de Jeannette' (Feb. 4, 1853), a charming lyric comedy in 1 act. These early successes justified the hope that in Massé the French stage had found a composer as fruitful and melodious, if not as original, as Auber; but his later efforts have been less fortunate. 'La Reine Topaze' (Dec. 27, 1856) indeed succeeded completely, and has kept the boards, but 'La Fiancée du Diable' (June 3, 54); 'Miss Fauvette' (Feb. J 3> 55); 'Les Saisons' (Dec. 22, 55); 'Les Chaises à porteurs' (April 28, 58); 'La Fée Carabosse' (March 7, 59); 'La Mule de Pedro' (March 6, 63); 'Fior d'Aliza' (Feb. 5, 66); and 'Le Fils du Brigadier' (Feb. 25, 67), though fairly received, soon disappeared. Some however contain good music, especially 'Les Saisons' and 'Fior d'Aliza.' In 1860 he became chorus-master to the Académie de Musique, and in 66 succeeded Leborne as professor of composition at the Conservatoire—gratifying appointments as showing the esteem of his brother artists, although the work they entailed left him little time for composition. On June 20, 1872, he was elected to the Institut as successor to Auber.

After a long period of silence Massé produced 'Paul et Virginie,' 3 acts (Nov. 15, 1876; given in Italian at Covent Garden Opera-house, June i, 1878). In spite of its success and its evident ambition, this opera seems less original .and less homogeneous in style than 'Galathée' or 'Les Noces de Jeannette,' and its best parts, us in all his operas, are the short pieces and the simple romances.

To complete the list of his operas we may mention 'La Favorita e la Schiava' (Venice, 1855), and 'Le Cousin Marivaux' (Baden, 1857); also two drawing-room operettas 'Le Prix de Famille' and 'Une loi Somptuaire.' He has published 3 'Recueils' of 20 songs each, selected from his numerous romances. Many of these are charming little pieces.

In 1877 he was made an officer of the Legion of Honour. For the last two years he has been suffering from a malady which compelled him to resign his post at the Académie in 1876, and has since caused his complete withdrawal from the world. He is engaged on an opera, 'Cléopâtre,' from which he expects much; and it is to be hoped he may recover sufficiently to superintend its production. We also wish he could be persuaded to give to the world other specimens of musical criticism besides his 'Notice sur la vie et l'œuvre d'Auber,' a valuable contribution to musical literature.

[ G. C. ]

Appendix.

Add that he died in Paris, July 5, 1884, after a long and painful illness, which had confined him to the house and rendered him totally incapable of active work. In 1876 he was obliged to give up his professorship of advanced composition at the Conservatoire, and was succeeded by Guiraud. During seven years of suffering his only consolation lay in composition, and in this way his opera, 'La Mort de Cléopâtre,' intended for the Opéra, was written. After his death a representation of the work took place at the Opéra Comique in the composer's honour (April 25, 1885), though the reception of 'Paul et Virginie' did not hold out much hope of success for a work evidently written in the same style and aiming too high. Although the composer's death was sufficiently recent to secure a favourable reception for this misnamed 'grand opera,' yet the composition was an evident failure, consisting as it did of misplaced pretension, and an ambitious imitation of Gounod's methods, in which Massé had lost what little remained to him of his original grace and charm. In spite of this change in his style, and though he must rank as a musician of the second order, there is at times in some of his songs a personal charm, a sober gaiety, and a gentle emotion. It was when he composed a song without having in view any particular interpretation, and when nothing more was required of him, that he could write most freely and could give the exact relation between the music and the words, a quality in which he originally excelled, and in which he resembled the school of Grétry. His ideal, which was on the whole a just one, did not exceed the limits of an exact feeling for prosody, and it is by those compositions of his in which the laws of metre are most faithfully observed that he is most likely to be for a short time remembered.

[ A. J. ]