Centre for Continuing Education

Music in Paris Course: 1852-1863

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

This ongoing course enters the central decade of the nineteenth century, where we’ll explore the radical changes that Parisian music underwent during the exuberant but frivolous period of the Second French Empire. New theatres emerged, featuring the new and excitingly lighter music of Offenbach, Gounod and Bizet, whilst the older guard which was represented by Meyerbeer and Berlioz became increasingly sidelined. We will examine the impact of Paris’s first Exposition Universelle on the musical world, and explore the physical changes Paris underwent under the stewardship of Baron Haussmann, as it began its transition into the iconic cityscape we know today.


This course aims to:

  • explore the new musical styles of Offenbach, Gounod and Bizet as they reflect the lighter cultural concerns and ambitions of the Second French Empire
  • simultaneously track the parallel activities of the more senior French composers, namely Auber, Meyerbeer and Berlioz
  • place Parisian music in the context of its dramatically changing cityscape, with its new boulevards and plans for a new opera house.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss the major French operas of the period, including Gounod’s Faust, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers and Berlioz’s The Trojans
  • recognise the continued involvement of Verdi and Wagner in the Paris opera scene, and explain the very different circumstances and fortunes of their two major French operas of the period, Verdi’s The Sicilian Vespers and Wagner’s Tannhauser
  • appreciate the impact of the outstanding displays of new musical instruments at the first Paris Exposition Universelle
  • evaluate the major musical and cultural strengths and weaknesses of Napoleon III’s Second French Empire
  • discuss Baron Haussmann’s radical redesign of the city of Paris and the plans for a new opera house at the focal point of the newly-constructed Avenue de l’Opéra.


This course covers the following topics:

  • How the Second French Republic under Louis-Napoléon morphed into the Second French Empire under the same man, renamed Napoléon III.
  • How the first Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855 attracted thousands of visitors who flocked to the exhibits and to the musical events for which the city was famous.
  • How Verdi’s French grand opera The Sicilian Vespers enjoyed a considerable success while Wagner’s Paris version of Tannhauser became a fiasco.
  • How composer of light music, Jacques Offenbach, created racy new entertainment at his cosmopolitan theatre, the Bouffes-Parisiens.
  • The construction of Haussmann’s massive Avenue de l’Opéra and how a new opera house began.
  • French composers Charles Gounod and Georges Bizet – born two decades apart – became the new names to watch with Gounod’s Faust triumphing at the Opéra-Comique and Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at the Théâtre-Lyrique.
  • How a disillusioned Hector Berlioz was reinvigorated by the unexpected success of his oratorio The Childhood of Christ and went on to compose his great masterpiece, The Trojans.

Intended audience

The new course would appeal to a wide variety of music lovers as we move forward into increasingly familiar musical territory.

Delivery style

Presented as a series of informal lectures, illustrated with musical excerpts played on CD.


A weekly worksheet with a comprehensive synopsis of material being presented.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

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