His family originally came from Spain. Edouard learned to play the piano and violin at the Lille Conservatory, but his parents did not want him to take music as a profession. So he left home when he was 16 and went to Paris. He took some lessons and earned money by teaching and playing the violin. He liked chamber music. Not many people in France were interested in chamber music at that time. With three friends he formed a string quartet and they helped to make the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven better known in France. He played the viola in his quartet, and later he played second violin. In 1859 he composed a string quartet.
It was not until the 1870s, when he was already in his 50s, that he started to become really well known. Some famous conductors such as Pasdeloup, Lamoureux and Colonne and the violinist Sarasate took an interest in his orchestral works and performed them. He wrote a violin concerto and a work called Symphonie espagnole (Spanish Symphony) which was also for solo violin and orchestra. Sarasate played both these works. He wrote a cello concerto in 1877.
He wrote an opera Le roi d’Ys, but no opera house wanted to perform it. They asked him to write a ballet instead. He did not know anything about ballet, but he composed one called Namouna. It had some good music, although people who did not like him said it sounded like Wagner or like the music of someone who is used to writing symphonies.
In 1888 his opera Le roi d’Ys was performed at last. It was an enormous success, but Lalo only had four more years to live, and he did not compose anything more of importance. He had married one of his pupils in 1865 and they had a son.
In France Lalo is mainly remembered for his opera Le roi d’Ys, but in other countries his best known work is his Symphonie espagnole. It is not really a “symphony”, it is a violin concerto. It has five movements and there are lots of lively, Spanish rhythms. His cello concerto is also an excellent work.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians ed. Stanley Sadie, 1980