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Ambroise Thomas

Ambroise Thomas
Wilhelm Benque - Photograph of Ambroise Thomas.jpg
Photograph of Ambroise Thomas by Wilhelm Benque, c. 1895.
Born (1811-08-05)5 August 1811
Metz, France
Died 12 February 1896(1896-02-12)
Paris, France

Charles Louis Ambroise Thomas (5 August 1811 – 12 February 1896) was a French composer, best known for his operas Mignon (1866) and Hamlet (1868, after Shakespeare) and as Director of the Conservatoire de Paris from 1871 till his death.

"There is good music, there is bad music, and then there is Ambroise Thomas." - Emmanuel Chabrier

Thomas's parents were music teachers. By the age of 10, he was already an experienced pianist and violinist. In 1828, he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Jean-François Le Sueur (who also taught Berlioz) while at the same time taking piano lessons privately from the famous virtuoso Frédéric Kalkbrenner. In 1832, his cantata Hermann et Ketty won the Conservatory's prestigious composition prize, the Grand Prix de Rome, which allowed him to travel to and study in that city for three years. He took with him a love for Mozart and Beethoven; but once in Rome, he became an ardent admirer of the Italian cantilena and melodic tradition. It was during his Italian sojourn that he wrote all of his chamber music: namely, a piano trio, a string quintet and a string quartet.

The first opera Thomas composed, La double échelle (1837), was produced at the Opéra Comique and subsequently received 247 performances. Le caïd (1849), did still better, and achieved over 400 performances. For the next quarter of a century Thomas's productivity was incessant, and several of his operas (he wrote 24 altogether) enjoyed a considerable, if ephemeral, popularity. The questionable quality of their libretti hampers them, but a few have been revived now and then as historic curiosities or recorded as vehicles for bel canto singers, such as Le songe d'une nuit d'été (1850; not based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, but rather an English fantasy with Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare himself, and Shakespeare's fictional character Falstaff) or Psyché (1857). The overture to Raymond (1851) has also been given the occasional modern performance.