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Jules Emile Frederic Massenet was born in St. Etienne, France in 1842, the son of an industrialist. He received his first music lessons from his mother, and entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of nine, specializing in piano and studying composition with Antoine Thomas. At the age of twenty-one, he won the Prix de Rome and spent two years at the Villa Medici, followed by travels to Germany and Austro-Hungary.
When he returned to Paris he married and kept himself and his wife with small commissions and playing percussion in the orchestra at the Paris Opera until his works became known. He wrote a total of twenty-seven operas, his greatest successes being Le Roi de Lahore; Herodiade; Manon; Le Cid; Werther; Thais (1894); The Juggler of Notre Dame and Don Quichotte. Among his other works were ballets, orchestral and choral music, a piano concerto, cantatas (one of them entitled David Rizzio), a cello fantasy, and some 200 songs.
Massenet was much honored in his lifetime, being made the youngest member of the French Academie in 1879, and eventually becoming its President. He taught at the Paris Conservatory from 1878-1896, and among his pupils were Reynaldo Hahn, Charles Koechlin and Florent Schmitt. He died in Paris in 1912 and is buried in the village of Egreville, where he had his country house.