In the middle of the 19th century, Charles Gounod was considered to be one of the most brilliant and influential of French composers, and his opera Faust was for many decades guaranteed to fill opera houses around the world. Born in the Latin Quarter of Paris, he studied with Beethoven's friend Anton Reicha, and after winning the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1839, his musical future was assured – first as an organist in Paris, then (with growing success) as an opera composer. After a lukewarm initial reception, Faust (1859) became a Europe-wide hit; Roméo et Juliette (1867) would also enter the international repertoire, and both are still frequently performed.
Gounod's oratorios La Rédemption (1882) and Mors et Vita (1885) proved especially popular in Britain (although a scandal in Gounod's private life prevented him from enjoying his British celebrity in person), and the short, Bach-based Ave Maria (1853) is still probably his best-known single work. Its combination of clarity, craftsmanship and spiritually charged sensuality is typical of Gounod's mature style, which influenced a generation of French composers (including Bizet and Saint-Saëns) even after Gounod himself had come to be regarded as a slightly outdated figure. His songs and miniatures such as his Funeral March of a Marionette (1872) and Petite Symphonie for winds (1885) retain their power to charm and delight.