Centre for Continuing Education

Music in Paris Course: 1864-1876

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.

During the next decade of this ongoing Music in Paris Course: 1864-1876, we trace the confident rise of Napoléon III’s Second Empire, before witnessing its sudden demise following the brief but disastrous Franco-Prussian War. Throughout, the ramifications of these political successes and failures on Paris’s musical life will be examined.

Gounod and Verdi composed major operas for the second Paris Expo, the young Delibes produced two superb ballet scores, while Offenbach continued to delight audiences with his tuneful satirical operettas. Along the way, we watch Haussmann’s new Paris slowly emerge from the disruptions of massive demolition and construction works.

The course culminates with the gala opening of the spectacular new opera house designed by Charles Garnier on the new Place de l’Opéra, and the premiere of Bizet’s Carmen at the Opéra-Comique.


This course aims to:

  • assess the musical successes and failures of the ‘high noon’ of Napoléon III’s exuberant Second Empire
  • evaluate the effect of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the privations of the Siege of Paris upon the city’s morale as expressed in its musical and cultural life
  • demonstrate how the city recovered from the horrors of the brief ‘civil war’ known as the Paris Commune which followed, a recovery culminating four years later in the opening of a stunning new opera house at the head of one of the city’s magnificent new boulevards.


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

  • assess the musical and cultural strengths of the second half of Napoléon III’s reign and the first years of the Third Republic
  • discuss some of the most important French operas of the period, including Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, Meyerbeer’s posthumous L’Africaine and Bizet’s Carmen
  • evaluate the new operas by Gounod and Verdi composed to coincide with the second Paris exposition Universelle – Roméo et Juliette and Don Carlos
  • discuss the impact of the two new full-length ballets by Delibes, Coppélia and Sylvia
  • assess Haussmann’s reconstruction of the city including its new focal point, Charles Garnier’s spectacular new opera house.


This course includes the following topics:

  • How the Second French Empire under Napoléon III initially flourished but then collapsed suddenly under Bismarck’s carefully planned assault during the brief Franco-Prussian War.
  • How the second Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 eclipsed the first Expo in numbers of visitors, many of whom flocked to performances of specially mounted new operas composed by Verdi, Gounod and Offenbach.
  • How Léo Delibes composed two exciting full-length ballets which impressed the young Tchaikovsky.
  • How Camille Saint-Saëns composed three piano concertos in quick succession, and a celebrated symphonic poem, the Dance Macabre.
  • How Georges Bizet lived just long enough to see his new opera, Carmen, beginning to be more and more appreciated by audiences at the Opéra-Comique.
  • How Haussmann’s redesigned city began to emerge from the rubble, and the much-delayed new opera house, designed by Charles Garnier, opened on the new Avenue de l’Opéra in January 1875.

Intended audience

This 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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