Offenbach, Jacques

(1819-1880)

Jacques Offenbach was born in Cologne, Germany on 20 June 1819. Born to a musical family of Jewish origin, Offenbach was taught to play the violin by his father when he was 6 years old. Within two years, he was composing songs and dance pieces, and took up the cello at the age of 9. Three years later, he performed in public some of his own cello compositions which showed his expert technical command of his instrument. In 1833, 14-year old Offenbach was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, where he found academic study boring and left after one year.   

 

Following a period of free-lance work as a player in various theatre orchestras, Jacques Offenbach found a permanent appointment as a cellist at the Opéra-Comique in 1835. At the same time, he frequently performed in the fashionable salons of Paris and acquired fame as a cello virtuoso and composer. He also undertook concert tours in France, Germany and England where he appeared with some of the most famous musicians of the day.  

 

To realise his ambition to compose for the stage, Offenbach leased a small theatre at the hub of Paris where he presented a series of his own miniature musical farces which became exceedingly popular. In 1858, he produced his first full-length operetta Orphée aux Enfers with sensational success. During the following decade, he composed some 20 comic operettas including La Belle Helene (1864), La Vie Parisienne (1866) and La Périchole (1868). Their humorous plots, involving sexual innuendo, political intrigue and social satire, made them extremely popular with the Parisian public and brought the composer international fame and strong artistic influence in Vienna, London, New York and elsewhere in both Europe and the Americas.  

 

Offenbach devoted the last years of his life to composing his serious grand opera, Les Contes d'Hoffmann. This is a masterpiece full of magnificent melodies and dramatic effects, which he almost finished when he died in October 1880 at age 61. The score was completed by his younger contemporary, the composer-scholar Ernest Guiraud.