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Ambroise Thomas

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Ambroise Thomas


Ambroise Thomas (5 August 1811, Metz, France – 12 February 1896, Paris) was a French composer.

Charles-Louis-Ambroise Thomas, the son of a musician, learned to play violin and piano at an early age. He began his serious study of music at the Paris Conservatory in 1828, winning his first prize in piano after only one year of study with Guillaume Zimmermann and (later) Friedrich Kalkbrenner. Following another year of study with Jean François Lesueur, he won his first prize in harmony. Two years later (1832) Thomas received the coveted Grand Prix de Rome for his dramatic cantata Herman et Ketty. During his time in Rome he composed works which so pleased the judges that they were immediately published. After a tour of Europe in 1835, he returned to Paris, where he produced nine comic and serious operas in the next seven years. By 1845 he was sufficiently regarded to win the Legion d’honneur. He served in the national guard during the 1848 revolution and became a professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory in 1852. After attaining little success with five operas produced between 1851 and 1860 and feeling weary from his excessive duties at the conservatory, Thomas discontinued composing from 1859 to 1864. He returned to his writing with his great success, Mignon, in 1866, followed by Hamlet, produced at the Paris Opéra in 1868. After former director Daniel Auber died in 1871, Thomas served as director of the conservatory until his death in 1896.

Scores by Thomas were in the style of Adrien Boieldieu, Ferdinand Hérold, and Esprit Auber. They include 20 operas; two ballets; chamber music; cantatas; piano pieces; songs; and sacred works, including Messe solennelle—Solemn Mass. One of his most successful works for the Opéra Comique was an Oriental spoof titled Le Caïd (1849). Raymond (like many other 19th-century operas) is remembered solely for its popular overture.

Thomas typifies the successful dramatic composers of France during the latter half of the nineteenth century. His music was graceful, elegant, and traditional. He is credited by Elizabeth Forbes with having “brought a fresh lyricism to opéra comique and, with Mignon, of having composed one of the most popular works in the history of opera.”

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