French composer André Messager (1853–1929) was a prominent figure in French operetta at the turn of the century. Today he is best known as a composer of light music, particularly with his early ballet Les Deux Pigeons.
Messager was born in Montluçon. He studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer and with Saint-Saëns, going on to work as organist at St Sulpice. By the late 1870s he had composed a symphony and two cantatas and began work as a stage composer at the Folies-Bergère. In 1884 he was commissioned by the Paris Opéra to write Les Deux Pigeons. His La Basoche (1890) found success and led to his increasing prominence in both France and England. The brilliant success of Les P’tites Michu in 1897 led to his appointment as musical director of the Opéra-Comique. In this capacity he encouraged Debussy with Pelléas et Mélisande and conducted the opera’s premiere. He was employed at Covent Garden 1901–07, where he introduced Les Deux Pigeons to the repertory as well as conducting such works as Carmen and Don Giovanni. After the success of Fortunio in 1907 he was appointed director of the Paris Opéra, where he worked until 1914. He was musical director of the Opéra-Comique 1919–20 and in 1926 became the first composer to be elected president of the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques. He was made a Commander of the Légion d’honneur in 1927.
Messager’s music shows a gift for melody, dance and sophisticated orchestration. The popularity of his light music has to some extent obscured how important a figure he was in musical life of the time: Fauré said of him that he was ‘familiar with everything, knowing it all, fascinated by anything new’.
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