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 Mel Bonis

Mel Bonis

Birth
Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Death 18 Mar 1937 (aged 79)
Sarcelles, Departement du Val-d'Oise, Île-de-France, France
Burial Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
Memorial ID 22519843 · View Source
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Composer. Real name Melanie Helene Bonis. A gifted but long underrated figure, she helped bridge the gap between the Romantic and Impressionist movements of French music. She used the pseudonym Mel Bonis because she felt women composers of her time weren't taken seriously as artists. Bonis was born in Paris. Her parents discouraged her early interest in music and she taught herself to play piano until age 12, when she was finally given private lessons. A friend introduced her to Cesar Franck, who was so impressed with her abilities he made special arrangements for her to be admitted to the (all-male) Paris Conservatory in 1876. She won prizes in harmony and accompaniment and showed great promise in composition, but a romance with a fellow student, Amedee Hettich, caused her parents to withdraw her from the institution in 1881. Two years later she entered into an arranged marriage with a businessman 22 years her senior and for the next decade set music aside to raise a family. Then in 1893 Bonis again encountered Hettich, now a famous critic; he urged her to continue composing and helped launch her career in fashionable Parisian salons, where her music made a considerable stir. Their affair resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter in 1898, and to avoid scandal the child was given to a chambermaid to raise. This action plagued her with guilt for the rest of her life. Bonis never quite became a star of the French cultural scene. In the years prior to World War I her compositions were regularly published and performed by such virtuosos as pianist Ricardo Vines and conductor Gabriel Pierne, and in 1910 she was elected secretary of the Society for Contemporary Music (SCM). But she lacked the necessary vanity for self-promotion, and even her admirers could not overlook her gender. Upon hearing her virile-sounding Piano Quartet No. 1 (1901), Saint-Saens exclaimed, "I never imagined a woman could write such music!" Under the circumstances she probably got as far as she could on talent alone. After the war Bonis slipped into obscurity and was largely bedridden from arthritis, though she continued to compose through the late 1920s. Her approximately 300 works include the "Waltz Suite" (1898), "Suite Orientale" (1900), and "Les Gitanos" (1904) for orchestra, the Flute Sonata (1904), Cello Sonata (1905), and Violin Sonata (1923), the Piano Quartet No. 2 (1927), the "Mass of Serenity" (c. 1922) and 24 sacred motets, 60 pieces for solo piano and 30 organ chorales, and many songs. In the 1960s, historians began to re-examine the contributions of earlier women composers and this set the stage for Bonis's posthumous reputation. Today her chamber pieces are frequently performed and much of her music is available in recordings.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Bobb Edwards
  • Added: 28 Oct 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 22519843
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Mel Bonis (21 Jan 1858–18 Mar 1937), Find A Grave Memorial no. 22519843, citing Cimetiere de Montmartre, Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .