Giacomo Meyerbeer – 5/9/1791 – 2/5/1864

Today, 5th September, marks Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 226th birthday. Born Jacob Leibmann Beer, Meyerbeer had an immensely successful musical career, becoming the most frequently performed composer at the leading opera houses of the nineteenth century. Meyerbeer was born into a wealthy Jewish family, just outside of Berlin. His parents had close ties with the Prussian court, and the family were constantly surrounded by the Prussian intelligentsia.

Meyerbeer-PortraitaufnahmePrior to his fame as a composer, Meyerbeer was a talented musician, whose skills were recognised and praised from the early age of nine. It was during his formal training with Abbé Vogles, a successful composer and teacher, that Meyerbeer learned the art of composition. Shortly after, Meyerbeer was appointed Court Composer by the Grand Duke Ludwig of Hasse-Darmstadt. This was just the beginning of Meyerbeer’s duties with the elite, as in his later life he was appointed both Kapellmeister in the Prussian Court and the Prussian General Music Director.

Meyerbeer’s Il Crociato in Egitto, written in 1824, was the first piece to bring him significant attention. Robert Letellier, who has published some 36 books with Cambridge Scholars about Meyerbeer and his works, notes this piece as a turning point in both Meyerbeer’s work, and also in the future of opera. However, it was the 1831 opera Robert le Diable that pushed Meyerbeer into the spotlight. Revised on several occasions to include ballet scenes and to adapt to particular actors, Robert le Diable was a massive success, and played a significant part in the awarding of membership into the Légion d’honneur, the highest French order of merit. Les Huguenots followed in the success of Robert le Diable, and became the first to be performed at the opera more than 1000 times.

Whilst early in his career Meyerbeer had tried to avoid confrontation over his work, even establishing Harmoischer Verein, a positive network of musicians and composers, his career was not absent of criticism from his contemporaries. Meyerbeer was unusual in his wealth and influence as a composer, and there was occasional criticism that his position was a result of his wealth, not just his musical gift. However, it is undeniable the Meyerbeer was one of the most successful and widely performed composers of the nineteenth century, and his legacy and opera’s still continue on today.

Robert Letellier, of the Institute of Continuing Education at the University of Cambridge, has published 36 books on Meyerbeer with Cambridge Scholars, in addition to his numerous other works. He was educated in Grahamstown, Cambridge, Salzburg, Rome and Jerusalem, and is a member of Trinity College, Cambridge, the Meyerbeer Institute Schloss Thurnau at the University of Bayreuth, Germany, the Salzburg Centre for Research in the Early English Novel, the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, and the Institute of Continuing Education at Madingley Hall, University of Cambridge. His publications number over 100 items, including books and articles on the late-seventeenth-, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novel (particularly the Gothic novel and Sir Walter Scott), the Bible (the Abraham Cycle, covenant, narrative theology, and homiletics), and European culture. He has specialized in the Romantic opera, especially the work of Giacomo Meyerbeer, and has also written on Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, the Opéra-Comique, Ludwig Minkus and the Romantic Ballet, and the Operetta.

A full list of Robert’s works on Meyerbeer follows: click the links to view more information about each title and to purchase a copy.

Cambridge Scholars are also the publishers of Giacomo Meyerbeer: Reputation without Cause? A Composer and his Critics by Jennifer Jackson, which studies the vicissitudes of Meyerbeer’s reputation complements introductions to his works and the volumes of academic essays in English and other European languages. To find out more, click here.

For further information on these titles and for any enquiries, please contact

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