Jules Massanet (1842 - 1912)
Meditation from "Thais"
One of the world's great encore pieces, the Meditation comes from the opera Thais which Massenet wrote in 1893. Thais is based on a novel by the French author Anatole France, which tells of a fourth century Egyptian courtesan called Thais, who was converted to Christianity by a hermit monk who lived in the desert, and eventually became a saint. Despite (or because of?) the unlikely plot, the opera was a great success, and stayed in the repertory of the Paris Opera continuously until 1956.
The Meditation is an interlude towards the end of the opera; designed as an opportunity for the leader of the orchestra to show off his skill, it has been transcribed for almost every conceivable instrument, but it still sounds best in its original form.