Henri Tomasi (17 August 1901, Paris – 13 January 1971, Paris) was a French classical composer and conductor.
His father Xavier Tomasi and mother Josephine Vincensi were originally from La Casinca, Corsica. At the age of five, the family moved to Mazarques, France, where Xavier Tomasi worked as a postal worker and enrolled his son in music theory lessons. At the age of seven, Tomasi entered the Conservatoire de Musique de Marseilles. Pressured by his father, he played for upper-class families, where he felt "humiliated to be on show like a trained animal." In 1913, the family moved back to Marseille. Tomasi had dreams of becoming a sailor and skipped many of his music classes. During the summer, he stayed with his grandmother in Corsica and learned traditional Corsican songs. In 1916, he won first prize in harmony, along with his friend Zino Francescatti, the celebrated violinist. World War I delayed his entrance into the Paris Conservatoire, so he played piano in Marseille to earn money. He performed in diverse venues such as upscale hotels, restaurants, brothels, and movie houses. His gift for composition was developed during this time as he improvised at the keyboard.
In 1921, he commenced his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris with a scholarship from Marseille and a stipend from a lawyer, Maitre Levy Oulman. He still performed at cafes and in the cinemas to earn money. His friend Maurice Franck described Tomasi as a hard worker: "He showed up with a fugue a week, he was indefatigable - an inveterate workaholic." In 1925, his first piece, a wind quintet called Variations sur un Theme Corse, won the Prix Halphen. His teachers at the Paris Conservatoire included Gaubert, Vincent d'Indy, Georges Caussade, and Paul Vidal. In 1927, he won the second Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata, Coriolan, and a First Prize for Orchestral Conducting, both awarded unanimously. In 1929 Tomasi began his career as a conductor for Concerts du Journal.
From 1930 to 1935 Tomasi served as the music director of the Radio Colonial Orchestra in French Indochina, and became one of the first radio conductors and a pioneer of "radiophonic" music. During the 1930s he was one of the founders of a contemporary music group in Paris entitled "Triton" along with Prokofiev, Milhaud, Honegger, and Poulenc. He spent equal time composing and conducting. He was one of the conductors for studio broadcasts of the Orchestre Radio Symphonique de la Radiodiffusion Francaise. He made his most memorable recording in 1936 with the extraordinary French mezzo soprano Alice Raveau in Gluck's Orfeo, which was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque. In 1939 Tomasi was drafted into the French Army and was named marching-band conductor at the Villefranche sur Mer fort.
In 1940 he was discharged and took up the baton at the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française. As a composer, his orchestral music is important, but above all he was attracted to the theater. In the realm of instrumental music, he preferred composing for wind instruments. He composed concerti for flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet, horn, and trombone. He also composed concerti for violin and viola. In 1944, his son Claude was born and Tomasi started composing a Requiem dedicated to "the martyrs of the resistance movement and all those who have died for France." (RadioFrance) Tomasi was disillusioned by the events of World War II and subsequently rejected all faith in God. His Requiem was set aside and was not discovered again and recorded until 1996. In 1946, Tomasi assumed the post of conductor of the Opera de Monte Carlo. He became extremely sought-after as a guest conductor all over Europe. In 1948, he wrote what would become his most popular composition, the Concerto for Trumpet. In 1949 the Concerto for Saxophone was performed by Marcel Mule.
1956 brought the long-awaited world premiere of his opera Don Juan de Mañara based on a text by poet O. V. de L. Milosc. This opera, L'Atlantide, and the comic opera Le Testament di Pere Gaucher established his reputation as an opera composer. His last piece for the theater, In Praise of Madness (the nuclear era), is a cross between opera and ballet and contains references to Nazism and napalm. It reflects Tomasi's postwar disillusionment with mankind.
Tomasi's music is fundamentally lyrical. Diatonic and chromatic melodic lines predominate supported by tertian and polychordal harmonies. His music is highly colorful, and one can hear the influence of his French contemporaries. Exotic sounds and colors of Corsica, Provence, Cambodia, Laos, the Sahara and Tahiti are used. He also wrote music inspired by medieval religious songs. He utilized many styles including Oriental recitative and twelve tone techniques but they were always personal and unique to him. Tomasi said: "Although I haven't shirked from using the most modern forms of expression, I've always been a melodist at heart. I can't stand systems and sectarianism. I write for the public at large. Music that doesn't come from the heart isn't music."
Works for Winds
- Concerto for Trombone and Winds (tr. Patterson) (1956/2014)
- Concerto pour Saxophon Alto et Orchestre (1949)
- Fanfare à Villefranche March (1950)
- Fanfares Liturgiques (1952)
- Les Gars de la Province (1947)
- Les Noces de Cendre (arr. Dondeyne) (2009)