The Kennedy Center

Leo Delibes


Known best for his romantic theatre musical and ballet composition, the composer was born Clément Philibert Léo Delibes in Saint-Germain-du-Val, France, in 1836. His father was a mailman, and his mother a musician.  His grandfather was an opera singer.  He is famous as one of the first noteworthy composer of ballet composition and he was the first to craft a full-length ballet score.

He trained in 1847 at the Paris Conservatoire where he studied  composition under Adolphe Adam and organ with François Benoist.  He began voice training in 1848.  And at the age of 17 he became an organist at various churches and a "chorister" at the Madeleine church, where he sang in the 1849 premiere of Meyerbeer's Le Prophète at the Opera.  He later became an accompanist at the Lyric Theatre and at the prestigious Paris Opera ten years later.  His first theatrical work was the light opera Deux sous de charbon (Two Pennies Worth of Coal), which was performed in 1856.  He composed operas and vaudevilles about one per year for the next fifteen years. His success led to his collaboration with Ludwig (Léon) Minkus on his first ballet composition, which was to become La Source, in 1866.

While working as an organist at Pierre de Chaillot from 1865 to 1871, he met and married Léontine Estelle Denain in 1871. His ballet success led to commissions for more ballet music.  He created Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876).   His great success as a composer for musical theater between 1870 and 1880 earned him in 1881 a professorship of composition at the Paris Conservatoire.  He was also granted membership in the French Institute because of his popularity.  His only other balletic composition was a Comédie-Francaise production of Le Roi s'Amuse in 1882.  He also wrote three operas which gained him great popularity around the world.  Leo Delibes died in Paris, January 16, 1891 and was buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre.
Leo Delibes


  • Cortège de Bacchus from Sylvia