Leo Delibes

Portrait of Leo Delibes

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French Romantic composer, best known for his ballets and operas. He was born on 21st February 1836 in Saint-Germain-du-Val, France and died on 16th January 1891 in Paris aged 54. 

Major Works

“Coppélia” (1870)
“Sylvia” (1876)
“Lakmé” (1883)

Biography Timeline

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was born on 21st February 1836 in Saint-Germain-du-Val, France. His father worked for the French Post Office and his mother was an amateur musician and daughter of a professional opera singer. Leo was the couple’s only child. 

1847: His father dies and the family move to Paris. 

1848: He is admitted to the Paris Conservatoire where he studies music theory, piano and organ.

1849: He becomes a chorister at the church of La Madeleine and sings at the premiere of “Le Prophete” by Giacomo Meyerbeer at the Paris Opera.

1854: He studies composition at the Conservatoire with the composer Adolphe Adam. He also earns some money by being the organist at the church of St Pierre de Chaillot and as a piano accompanist for the operatic performers at the Theatre Lyrique.

1856: His first stage work the one act comedy “Deux Sous de Charbon” (Two Sous Worth of Coal) is premiered at the Folies-Nouvelles.  

1858: He earns extra money by writing as a music critic.

1862: His last post as an organist is at the church of Saint Jean-Saint François. He also becomes Inspector of School Music and accompanist (and later chorus master) at the Paris Opéra.

1866: He is commissioned to compose two acts of the ballet “La Source” in collaboration with Ludwig Minkus.

1867: Because of the success of “La Source” he is invited to compose a waltz-divertissement called “Le Pas de Fleurs” to be introduced into the ballet “Le Corsaire” by his former teacher Adolphe Adam

1869: He composes his last short opera “La Cour du Roi Pétaud” for the Variétés Theatre. 

1870: In May his ballet “Coppelia” receives it premiere at the Opera. It is a huge success and makes him well known.

1871: He resigns from the Opéra to devote himself wholly to composition. He marries Léontine Estelle Denain. 

1872: He publishes a collection of songs including “Myrto”, “Les Filles de Cadiz” and “Bonjour Suzon”. 

1873: At the Opera-Comique he performs the three-act comic opera “Le Roi l’a Dit”.  (The King has Said It). The work is a success in Paris and in German opera houses but not elsewhere.

1876: He performs the grand mythological ballet, “Sylvia” at the Opera which has since become a staple of the repertoire.

1877: He is made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

1878: Despite his success at ballet music he is keen to write a serious vocal work. He composes a grand scena, “La Mort d’Orphée” (The Death of Orpheus) for the Trocadéro Concerts during the Exposition Universalle.

1880: He composes the romantic opera “Jean de Nivelle” for the Opéra-Comique which is a great success. He also writes “Deux Vieilles Gardes” (Two Old Guards) for the Bouffes-Parisiens theatre run by Jacques Offenbach.

1881: He is appointed professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

1882: He composes incidental music for a revival of the play “Le Roi s’Amuse” (The King has fun) by Victor Hugo at the Comedie Francaise.

1883: His opera “Lakme” is premiered at the Opéra-Comique on 14th April. It is a great success and is taken up by opera houses across Europe.

1884: He is elected to the prestigious Institut de France and starts working on another opera “Kassya” which is later completed after his death by Jules Massenet.

Leo Delibes, who had been ill for some time, died on 16th January 1891 at his home in Paris after suddenly collapsing. He was buried in the Cimitiere de Montmartre in Paris.