1858 - 1937
Mélanie Hélène Bonis, known as Mel Bonis, was a prolific French late-Romantic composer. She wrote more than 300 pieces, including works for piano solo and four hands, organ pieces, chamber music, mélodies, choral music, a mass, and works for orchestra. She attended the Paris Conservatoire, where her teachers included Cesar Franck, Ernest Guiraud, and Auguste Bazille.
Bonis was born to a Parisian lower-middle-class family and was educated according to the strict norms of Catholic morality. Endowed with great talent and musical sensitivity, she taught herself to play the piano. Initially, her parents did not encourage her music, but when she was twelve they were persuaded by a professor at the Conservatoire to allow her to receive formal music lessons. In 1874, at the age of sixteen, she began her studies at the Conservatoire, and attended classes in accompaniment, harmony, and composition, where she shared the benches with Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné, and received tuition from César Franck.
At the Conservatoire, she met and fell in love with Amédée Landély Hettich, a student, poet, and singer, setting some of his poems to music. Her parents disapproved of the match and withdrew her from the Conservatoire. In 1883, when she was twenty-five, they arranged for her to marry the businessman Albert Domange. Domange was twenty-two years her senior, and twice a widower with five children from his previous marriages. After marriage, Bonis immersed herself in domesticity, bearing three children with Domange. For Bonis, it was not an ideal marriage, as Domange did not like music.
In the 1890s, Bonis re-encountered Hettich, who was by then a respected vocal teacher and writer on music, married to a Polish harpist. Hettich encouraged Bonis to return to composition and was able to introduce her to some of the major publishers, after which her career began to succeed. Bonis and Hettich embarked on an affair, which led to the birth of an illegitimate child, Madeleine. Madeleine was put into the care of a former chambermaid; she inherited musical talent from her parents.
Bonis then devoted all her energies to composition. Her piano quartet was performed in 1901, and when he heard it, Saint-Saens exclaimed, "I never imagined a woman could write such music!". On 22 April 1905, she received an 'honourable mention' for her (now lost) Suite pour harpe chromatique et deux instruments à vent. In 1907, she became a member of the committee of the Société des compositeurs de musique and, from 1910 to 1914, its secretary. Some of her works were published by Éditions Alphonse Leduc.
Bonis was too modest for self-promotion, and even her admirers at the time did not overlook her gender. After the First World War, her music fell into obscurity, and she became bedridden from arthritis. She continued to compose through the late 1920s, until her death in 1937, aged 79. Hettich died a month later. Bonis died in Sarcelles, Val-d'Oise, and is buried in Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris.
Biography taken from Wikipedia.
Painting by Charles-Auguste Corbineau