Jacques Offenbach

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Offenbach, Jacques


(pen name of Jakob Eberst). Born June 20, 1819, in Cologne; died Apr. 10, 1880, in Paris. French composer, one of the founders of the classical operetta. Son of a cantor.

From 1833, Offenbach lived in Paris. He began his career as a composer of theater music (1839) and studied composition with J. F. Halévy. In 1849 he became composer and conductor at the Comédie Française. In 1855 he opened his own theater, the Bouffes-Parisiens, which he directed until 1861.

The parody operetta Orpheus in Hades (1858; second version, 1874) won recognition for Offenbach. He consolidated his success with the operettas La Belle Hélène (1864), Bluebeard (1866), La Vie parisienne (1866), La Périchole (1868), and Les Brigands (1869). Although these works had mythological, fairytale, and topical or anecdotal themes, they provided a satirical portrait of bourgeois society under the Second Empire. Parody was an important aspect of all of them.

In 1876–77, Offenbach toured the USA, appearing as a conductor. The last years of his life were marked by a surge of creativity. He composed the operettas Madame Favart (1878) and La fille du tambour-major (1879), as well as the opera The Tales of Hoffmann, in which his lyrical gift was powerfully displayed (1880; E. Guiraud’s version staged in 1881). Offenbach composed more than 100 operettas, laying the foundation for the genre. His music was democratic, permeated with the intonations of Parisian urban lore and the rhythms of popular dances. His striking gift for melody, his technical mastery in composition, and his excellent grasp of the principles of the stage made him an outstanding master of musical theater and won international popularity for his compositions.


Sollertinskii, I. Zhak Offenbakh. Leningrad, 1933.
Decaux, A. Offenbach, roi du Second Empire. Paris, 1958.


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