Mélanie Bonis

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Mel Bonis at age 17, painting by Charles-Auguste Corbineau (1885).
Mel Bonis at about age 50, photo ca. 1908.

Mélanie Hélène Bonis, known as Mel Bonis (b. 4th arrondissement of Paris, 21 January 1858 – d. Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise), 18 March 1937) was a prolific French classical composer. She wrote more than 300 compositions, including works for piano solo and four hands, organ pieces, chamber music, mélodies, choral music, a mass, and works for orchestra. The organist Auguste Bazille was one of her teachers.


Bonis was born to a Parisian lower-middle-class family and was educated according to the strict norms of the Catholic morality of the time. Of great talent and musical sensitivity, she taught herself 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.[1] At the age of sixteen she began her studies at the prestigious Conservatoire, and attended the accompaniment, harmony and composition classes, where she shared the benches with Claude Debussy and Gabriel Pierné.[2] and received tuition from César Franck. Due to the difficulties encountered by women who wished to compose, she adopted the more androgynous form of her first name "Mel".[3]

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. Unfortunately, her parents disapproved of the match, and arranged for her to marry the businessman Albert Domange, 25 years her senior, after which for a period she disappeared into domesticity and had three children.[4]

Some years later, she met Hettich again, who encouraged her to return to composition, after which her career took off. However she also began an affair with Hettich, which led to the birth of an illegitimate child, Madeleine. The child was put into the care of a former chambermaid, whilst Bonis devoted all her energies to composition, becoming a member of the Société des compositeurs de musique and a published composer with Éditions Alphonse Leduc.[5]


Chamber music[edit]

  • Suite en trio pour flûte, violon et piano, opus 59 (1903),
  • Fantaisie en septuor, pour piano, deux flûtes, deux violons, alto et violoncelle, opus 72 (1906),
  • Scènes de la forêt (Forest Scenes), flute, horn and piano, opus 123 (1927-1928),
  • Suite dans le style ancien, for flute, violin and piano, opus 127/1 (1928),
  • Suite orientale (Oriental Suite), opus 48,
  • Soir, matin (Evening, Morning) for piano and violin,
  • Nocturne
  • Quatuor piano et cordes en si bémol opus 69,
  • Quatuor piano et cordes en ré opus 124,
  • Sonate pour flûte et piano en do dièse mineur (Piano and Flute Sonata in C-sharp Minor) opus 64,
  • Sonate pour violoncelle et piano en fa majeur opus 67,
  • Sonate pour violon et piano en fa dièse mineur (Violin and Piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor) opus 112,
  • Different pieces for violin and piano, flute and piano.

Music for piano[edit]

In nine volumes

  • First volume: Femmes de Légende (Legendary Women)
  • Second and third volumes: Pièces Pittoresques et Poétiques (Picturesque and Poetic Pieces), I and II
  • Fourth volume: Concert pieces
  • Fifth volume: Danses et Pièces Légères
  • Sixth volume: Piano à quatre mains A
  • Seventh volume: Pièces Pittoresques et Poétiques III, seven pieces
  • Eighth volume: Piano à quatre mains B
  • Ninth volume: Deux pianos à quatre main, Scherzo opus 40 and Variations opus 85

Children's music[edit]

  • Children's Scenes, opus 92 (1912)
  • Miocheries opus 126 (1928)
  • Nine Easy Pieces (Neuf Pièces faciles), opus 148 (1936)
  • 17 Children's Pieces (17 Pièces enfantines), opus 116 (1926)
  • Album pour les tout Petits opus 103 (1913).

Organ music[edit]

  • 21 Organ Pieces, Carrara Pergame (Italy) with Toccata, Cantabile, Choral, etc.
  • 6 Unfinished Pieces

Vocal religious music[edit]

  • Regina Cœli opus 45
  • Divers motets pour chœur


  • Les Gitanos, opus 15- 3, Orchestration by Ad. Gauwin,
  • Suite en forme de Valse
  • Suite Orientale opus 48 (1900):: Prelude, opus 48-1
  • Bourrée, Pavane, Sarabande (1909),
  • Trois Femmes de Légende (Three Legendary Women) : Salome opus 100- 2, (for piano, Ophelia, opus 165- 2 posthumous (for piano), The Song of Cleopatra opus 180- 2.

Children's orchestra[edit]

  • Burlesque Symphony, opus 185, posthumous: ballad


  1. ^ http://www.mel-bonis.com/melboanglais.htm
  2. ^ Geliot, Christine (2000)Mel Bonis. Femme et compositeur (1858-1937); Univers musical. ISBN 2-7384-9012-3, 290 pages.
  3. ^ http://www.mel-bonis.com/melboanglais.htm
  4. ^ http://www.mel-bonis.com/melboanglais.htm
  5. ^ http://www.mel-bonis.com/melboanglais.htm

External links[edit]