Discovery Series: Mel Bonis - Entrada Piano

May 11, 2022

Discovery Series: Mel Bonis

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If I were the CEO of Netflx, I’d get my production people to make a feature about the French composer, Mélanie Bonis. I imagine opening credits fading over close-ups of a young woman’s hands dancing over piano keys. Then, during a crescendo in the music, before the first scene, the following fills the screen: “I consider it to be the educator’s duty to suppress the girl’s rising genius…”

Mélanie Bonis, born into a lower middle-class Parisian family, taught herself to play the piano. Her parents supplied no encouragement and demanded that she concentrate on womanly pursuits. But a family friend, a music professor, urged her parents to allow her to continue. Bonis began studying piano and composition with Cesar Franck and later entered the Paris Conservatoire where her classmates included Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné. When it was clear that she had the talent to be a fine composer but was the wrong gender, she took on the pseudonym of Mel Bonis.

The story gets juicier when Mélanie falls in love with singer-poet Amedee-Louis Hettich. Once again, her parents do not approve, since the relationship will take her into the “dangerous artistic world.” They demand that she leave the Conservatoire and, later, marry a twice-widowed businessman, twenty-five years her senior, who doesn’t care for music. For the next decade, Melanie appears to have been a dutiful, bourgeois homemaker who bore three children with the man she married and cared for five sons from his previous marriages.

But that was only part of her story. The flame between her and Hettich did not die. She had secret rendezvous with him thathelped keep her love of composition alive.

Some years later, still married, she traveled to Switzerland under the pretense of seeking a health cure and gave birth to a daughter, Madeleine, fathered by her lover. The child was raised by the father and never told who her mother was until, as an adult, Madeleine stayed as a boarder in Mélanie’s home and fell in love with a half-brother. Bonis felt compelled to reveal the truth, while swearing her children to maintain the secret for fear of social ruin.

Netflix docudrama aside, Mélanie Bonis was a remarkable, prolific composer who wrote over 300 works, including numerous pieces for solo piano. Today, Entrada is releasing a masterclass on her Prelude in E-Flat, Op. 10.

This beautiful intermediate work projects a melancholic nostalgia. It features cantabile lines in each hand and builds to a fortissimo climax before returning to its main theme, accompanied by expressive counterpoint of two-note slurs.




One response to “Discovery Series: Mel Bonis”

  1. Gwen Auld says:

    What a lovely story! Thanks for bringing deserving talents to light for contemporary students everywhere!

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