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Godard, Benjamin (1849-1895)

Benjamin Godard

born: 18 August 1849
died: 10 January 1895
country: France

The son of a businessman, Benjamin Louis Paul Godard was born in Paris on 18 August 1849. As a child prodigy violinist he trained at the Paris Conservatoire, studying composition and harmony with Napoléon Henri Reber (who also taught Massenet) and, later, violin with the great Belgian virtuoso Henry Vieuxtemps. Godard had his first work, the Violin Sonata in C minor, Op 1, published when he was sixteen and, though he twice competed unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome in the mid-1860s, he decided to devote himself entirely to composition.

Much of the enormous amount of music he produced over the next thirty years—he had reached Op 100 by 1886—followed in the tradition of Mendelssohn and Schumann (his admiration for the latter inspired a string quartet arrangement of Kinderszenen in 1876). His distaste for the rhetorical excesses of Wagner was a reaction no doubt coloured by his loathing of the German’s anti-Semitism (Godard himself was of Jewish extraction). With the emergence of more innovative composers, Godard’s conservative idiom meant his reputation faded before his early death in Cannes on 10 January 1895.

from notes by Jeremy Nicholas © 2014

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