Having composed as a youth a sparkling and fluent Symphony in C (which was lost and not played until sixty years after the composer's death), Georges Bizet wrote another symphony over the span of twelve years. Like many other French composers of note, Bizet had been a winner of the French Prix de Rome, entitling him to spend three years of free enrollment at the French Academy in that city. He got the idea for this symphony while travelling back to Paris in 1860, and originally thought of calling it "Rome, Venice, Florence, & Naples." He intended the symphony as his mandatory submission for his last year in Rome, but only completed the scherzo on time. He finished the first version of the symphony, finally in 1866, but drastically rewrote all of it except the Scherzo. A performance of the revised score, minus the Scherzo, occurred in 1869, but Bizet continued to work on it in 1871. The full piece was not given until five years after the composer's death in 1875.
The scherzo movement is particularly good, with a liveliness and grace. It also exhibits Bizet's usual superb orchestration, as does the whole symphony. That is as far as unreserved praise can go. The outer movements are a frustrating mixture of brilliant flashes mixed with pedantry, and the "andante molto" slow movement is ponderous and boring. It survives today only because it is a different look at a composer otherwise mainly known for his stage music.