Mel Bonis

1858-1937

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Mélanie Hélène Bonis, known as Mel Bonis (21 January 1858 – 18 March 1937), was a prolific French late-Romantic composer. She wrote more than 300 pieces, including works for piano solo and four hands, organ pieces, chamber music, mélodies, choral music, a mass, and works for orchestra. She attended the Paris Conservatoire, where her teachers included Cesar Franck, Ernest Guiraud, and Auguste Bazille.

Bonis was born to a Parisian lower-middle-class family and was educated according to the strict norms of the Catholic morality of the time. Of great talent and musical sensitivity, she taught herself the piano. Initially her parents did not encourage her music, but when she was twelve, they were persuaded by a professor at the Conservatoire to allow her to receive formal music lessons. At the age of sixteen, she began her studies at the Conservatoire, and attended classes in accompaniment, harmony and composition, where she shared the benches with Claude Debussy, Gabriel Pierné, and others and received tuition from César Franck. Due to the difficulties encountered by women who wished to compose, she adopted the more androgynous form of her first name, "Mel".

At the Conservatoire she met and fell in love with Amédée Landély Hettich, a student, poet and singer, setting some of his poems to music. Unfortunately, her parents disapproved of the match, and in 1883 arranged for her to marry the businessman Albert Domange, 25 years her senior (and a widower with five children from his two previous marriages), after which for a period she disappeared into domesticity and had three children. For Bonis it was not an ideal marriage as Domange did not like music.

In the 1890s, she met Hettich again, who encouraged her to return to composition, after which her career took off. However, she also began an affair with Hettich, which led to the birth of an illegitimate child, Madeleine. The child was put into the care of a former chambermaid, whilst Bonis devoted all her energies to composition, becoming a member of the Société des compositeurs de musique and a published composer with Éditions Alphonse Leduc.

She died in Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise).

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