Mel Bonis started to compose at the age of 16 and at this age she was also introduced to César Franck who gave her piano lessons and showed a great interest in her first compositions.
At 17 she attended the accompaniment, harmony and composition classes, sharing the benches with Debussy and Pierné at the Paris Conservatoire. There was at this time an no acceptance of women actually composing music so Mélanie gave herself the pseudonym Mel Bonis to avoid any feminine connotation in her name.
In singing classes at the Consevatoire she met Amédée Landély Hettich, a singing student with a strong personality, poet, journalist and musical critic with some influence already at the age of 22. She set his poems to music. Their passion met with the opposition of Mélanie’s parents who refused this marriage into a “dangerous artistic world.” They forced their daughter to leave the Conservatoire, to the great disappointment of17 her teachers, Ernest Guiraud and César Franck, and of the director, Ambroise Thomas. With a second prize in accompaniment and a first prize in harmony, already a promising composition student.
In 1883, a marriage was arranged by her family: against her will she married Albert Domange, an energetic businessman, twice widowed, father of five boys and 25 years her senior. He did not share Mélanie’s musical interests. She shared her time between a private mansion in the rue de Monceau in one of the most elegant districts of Paris, a property in Sarcelles and a house in Étretat, a fashionable holiday resort in Normandy.
As her family circle took no interest in her music, external encouragements were needed to revive Mélanie’s interest in composing. A few years after her marriage, she met up with Hettich again. He had also married. He encouraged her to compose, brought her closer to the musical milieu and introduced her to Alphonse Leduc, her future publisher. Her work started to get known: scores were sold and played in the parlours. Hettich and Mel Bonis worked together. She was the mainspring of his “Anthology of classical songs,” she showed him her compositions for piano, accompanied his singing students and set his new poems to music, in particular “Elève-toi, mon âme,” which expresses the passionate feeling that united them.
She was a prolific and inspired composer. She composed about three hundred works: piano pieces, ranging from pieces for children to concert pieces, for two hands, four hands and two pianos; beautiful compositions for the voice, either profane, with songs for one or two voices (among them those set to texts by Hettich, her lover), or religious, with at least twenty-five works, most of them for choir a cappella or accompanied by organ or harp; about thirty pieces for organ or harmonium; about twenty chamber music works, including three sonatas, two piano quartets, a septet, etc…; and finally, eleven orchestral pieces. “