German composer; born at Berlin Sept. 5, 1791; died at Paris May 2, 1864. His real name was Jakob Liebmann Beer; but he changed it when his grandfather promised to leave him his fortune on condition that the composer prefix the name "Meyer" to his patronymic. He received his early instruction in music from Franz Lauska and Muzio Clementi, and at the age of seven made his début as a pianist in one of Patzig's pupils' concerts (Oct. 14, 1800), playing the D Minor Concerto by Mozart. He then studied theory under Zelter, and later under Bernard Anselm Weber, director of the Berlin Opera, with whom he remained until 1810, in which year he went to Darmstadt to study for two years under Abbé Vogler.Early Works.
In 1811 he wrote the oratorio "Gott und die Natur," the score of which so pleased the Grand Duke of Hesse that he appointed Meyerbeer composer to the court. The first performance of the work took place May 8, 1811, at the Singakademie, Berlin. Two operas, "Jephtha's Gelübde" and "Abimelek, oder die Beiden Khalifen," which Meyerbeer had written, were produced at the Royal Opera-House, Munich, in 1813. Soon afterward he gave a piano recital at Vienna, achieving a complete success.
In 1815 Meyerbeer went to Venice in order to familiarize himself with Italian melody and vocalization. He now set to work writing in the Italian vein, and met with instantaneous success, his four operas composed at this time being received with immense enthusiasm. In 1823, while engaged on "Il Crociato in Egitto," the composer went to Berlin, where he unsuccessfully endeavored to arrange for a performance of his three-act opera "Das Brandenburger Thor." In 1824 "Il Crociato" was produced at Venice with very great success; and two years later Meyerbeer accepted an invitation to Paris to witness a performance of the same opera. Thenceforth he became wholly identified with the French school of opera. On Nov. 21, 1831, his "Robert le Diable" was produced at the Grand Opera, Paris; and within a year the libretto had been translated into nearly every European language, and performances had been given in every important city. This opera was followed (Feb. 20, 1836) by "Les Huguenots," an opera which was at first received with somewhat less favor than "Robert le Diable," but which ultimately came to be regarded as greatly its superior.
After the production of "Les Huguenots" at Berlin, Meyerbeer was called to that city by King Frederick William IV. as general musical director; and there he composed his opera "Das Feldlager in Schlesien," which, however, was not successfully produced until Jenny Lind, whom Meyerbeer had introduced to the Berlin public, assumed the rôle of Vielka. In the summer of 1846, at the request of the Princess of Prussia, Meyerbeer composed the incidental music to the drama "Struensee," written by his brother Michael Beer; and on Sept. 19 following, this work, the music of which ranks among his best productions, was performed at the Royal Theater, Berlin. After visits to Vienna and London in 1847, Meyerbeer returned to Berlin, where he produced Richard Wagner's "Rienzi." Two years later "Le Prophète," the libretto of which had been completed by Scribe in 1842, was produced at the Grand Opera, Paris (April 16, 1849), and, like its predecessors, "Robert le Diable" and "Les Huguenots," soon made the circuit of the globe.
Despite failing health Meyerbeer produced "L'Etoile du Nord" at the Opéra Comique (1854), and four years later "Dinorah ou le Pardon de Ploermel." Neither of these operas, however, met with the favorable reception accorded to Meyerbeer's previous Parisian productions. In 1862 he represented German music at the opening of the London International Exhibition with his "Overture in the Form of a March." Upon his return to Berlin he resumed his work upon "L'Africaine," on which he had been engaged since 1838. For years, the difficulty of getting a satisfactory cast had prevented the production of this opera; and several other circumstances hindered its performance duringthe composer's lifetime. In April, 1864, he returned for the last time to Paris, to superintend the preparatory rehearsals of this opera; but in the midst of his labors he died, and the opera was not produced until May 28, 1865. In accordance with Meyerbeer's last wishes his body was taken to Berlin for burial; but imposing funeral obsequies were held in Paris also.Compositions.
Of Meyerbeer's compositions besides those already mentioned, the following deserve special notice: the monodrama "Thevelinden's Liebe," for soprano solo and chorus with clarinet obligato; "Romilda e Costanza" (1815); "La Semiramide Riconosciuta" (1819); "Emma di Resburgo" (1819); "Margherita d'Anjou" (1820); "L'Esule di Granada" (1822); seven sacred cantatas of Klopstock, for quartet unaccompanied; choruses to Æschylus' "Eumenides"; "Der Genius der Musik am Grabe Beethoven's," for soli and chorus; "Freundschaft," for 4-part male chorus; Psalm xci., for eight voices, composed for the choir of the Berlin Cathedral; "Fackeltänze," for brass orchestra, composed for the weddings of the King of Bavaria (1846) and of the Princesses Charlotte (1850) and Anne (1853) of Bavaria; grand march for the Schiller Centenary Festival, 1859; Coronation March for King William I. (1863); also a large number of songs with pianoforte accompaniment, among which "Le Moine" (for bass) and "Das Fischermädchen" are perhaps the most popular.
Meyerbeer received medals and other distinctions from almost every civilized government. He steadfastly adhered to Judaism throughout his life. He was ever ready to assist his fellow artists irrespective of creed; and in his will he made provision for a similarly beneficent disposition of his wealth. He set aside, for instance, 10,000 thalers (the Meyerbeer-Stiftung), the interest of which he directed to be used in providing traveling fellowships for promising students of music.
- Hermann Mendel, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Berlin, 1868;
- H. Blaze de Béry, Meyerbeer, Sa Vie, Ses Œuvres et Son Temps;
- M. Joël, Worte Gesprochen an der Bahre Meyerbeers, Breslau, 1864;
- Grove, Dictionary of Music and Musicians;
- Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens.