Composers Datebook®

Massenet's "Meditation"

Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912) Meditation, fr Thaïs Nigel Kennedy, violin; English Chamber Orchestra EMI 57330

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 16, 2023


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March 16, 2023


A new opera by Jules Massenet had its premiere at the Paris Opera on today's date in 1894. It was titled Thais and was based on a rather spicy novel of the same name by the popular French author of the day, Anatole France.

The novel and the opera are based on an old seventh-century manuscript, which mentions a fabulously beautiful Egyptian courtesan named Thais who converted to Christianity and spent the rest of her life meditating in seclusion on matters spiritual. In Massenet's opera, the conversion from strip-tease artiste to nun is depicted by an instrumental interlude, the famous Meditation from Thais, which has become a favorite showpiece for solo violinists.

To add a dash of the piquant to the tale, in both the novel by Anatole France and in the opera by Massenet, the young monk who diligently convinces Thais to change her wicked ways suddenly falls madly in love with her himself, and just as diligently tries to persuade her to add just one more name—his—to her list of satisfied customers.

As they used to say in ancient Egypt: "Ooh-la-la!"

Music Played in Today's Program

Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912) Meditation, fr Thaïs Nigel Kennedy, violin; English Chamber Orchestra EMI 57330

On This Day


  • 1937 - American composer David Del Tredici, in Cloverdale, Calif.;


  • 1736 - Italian composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, age 26 (of consumption), in Pozzuoli;

  • 1881 - Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (Gregorian date: Mar. 28)

  • 1968 - Italian-born American composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, age 62, in Los Angeles;

  • 1985 - American composer Roger Sessions, age 88, in Princeton, N.J.;


  • 1735 - Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 4, nos. 2-3 (Julian date: March 5);

  • 1750 - Handel: oratorio "Theodora," in London at the Covent Garden Theater; At the same event, the possible premiere of Handel's Organ Concerto Op. 7, no. 5, as well (Gregorian date: March 27);

  • 1751 - Handel: oratorio "The Choice of Hercules" in London at the Covent Garden Theater; At the same event, Handel's Organ Concerto Op. 7, no. 3 premieres following Act II of a revival performance of Handel's cantata "Alexander's Feast" on the same program (Gregorian date: March 27);

  • 1833 - Bellini: opera "Beatrice di Tenda" in Venice at the Teatro la Fenice;

  • 1870 - Tchaikovsky: fantasy-overture "Romeo and Juliet," in Moscow, with Nicolas Rubinstien conducting (Julian date: Mar. 4);

  • 1871 - Tchaikovsky: String Quartet in D, Op. 11, in Moscow, by members of the Russian Musical Society (Gregorian date: Mar. 28);

  • 1879 - Dvorák: choral setting of Psalm No. 149, Op. 79, in Prague;

  • 1888 - American premiere of the revised version of Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 ("Romantic"), with New York Philharmonic-Society conducted by Anton Seidl; In the preface to a book on Bruckner, the elderly conductor Walter Damrosch claimed he conducted the American premiere of this symphony (His memory played him false: Damrosch led the first American performance of Bruckner's THIRD Symphony;

  • 1894 - Massenet: opera "Thaïs," at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1938 - Martinu: opera "Julietta," in Prague at the National Theater;

  • 1942 - Martinu: "Sinfonietta giocosa," for piano and chamber orchestra, in New York City;

  • 2002 - Paul Schoenfield: "Nocturne" for solo cello, oboe and strings, by cellist Peter Howard, with oboist Kathryn Greenbank and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Gilbert Varga conducting.