Georges Bizet composed L'Arlésienne as incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's play of the same name, usually translated as The Girl from Arles. It was first performed on 1 October 1872 at the Vaudeville Theatre (now a cinema known as the Gaumont Opéra). Bizet's music consists of 27 numbers (some only a few bars) for voice, chorus, and small orchestra, ranging from short solos to longer entr'actes. Bizet himself played the harmonium backstage at the premiere performance.

Bizet's suite contains several folk-like themes for the music but also incorporated three existing tunes from a folk-music collection published by Vidal of Aix in 1864: La Marcho di Rei (The March of the Kings), the Danse dei Chivau-Frus, and Er dou Guet. The score achieves powerful dramatic ends with the most economic of means. Still, it received poor reviews in the wake of the premiere and is not much performed nowadays in its original form. The play itself was not successful, closing after only 21 performances. It had been staged as a last-minute replacement for another play, which had been banned by the censors, and the audience was less than favourably disposed to the new play.

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