In 1863, Massenet won the famous Prix de Rome at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was later to become a professor. A prolific composer, he wrote over thirty operas (of which Manon, Werther and Thaïs are his most famous), and some 250 songs, although despite being a brilliant orchestrator, rarely indulged in purely symphonic writing.
Élégie is one of Massenet’s most famous songs: having originally been written for piano in 1866 (as Mélodie No. 5 from Dix Pièces de genre, Op. 10), the composer adapted it twice – firstly as a cello solo in his incidental music to the play Les Érinnyes, and latterly in this version for voice and piano, setting the melody to a text by the French poet Louis Gallet. In this dramatic – almost operatic – expression of loss, Massenet spins a beautifully contemplative vocal line over the equally evocative piano accompaniment.