AMBROISE THOMAS (1811 - 1896)
The son of a violinist and of a singer, Ambroise Thomas was born in Metz, but moved to Paris after the death of his father, studying at the conservatoire with Zimmerman, Doulen and the great pianist Kalkbrenner, going on to study composition with Berlioz’s teacher, Lesueur. He won the important Prix de Rome, spending time in Italy and then in Germany, before establishing himself in Paris as a composer of opera, initially with increasing success at the Opéra-Comique, where Mignon, based on Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre was first staged in 1866. Two years later his Hamlet was seen at the Opéra, a substantial work that aroused inevitable criticism in certain circles for its treatment of the original play of Shakespeare, who had already suffered in his earlier Elizabethan potpourri, Un songe d’une nuit d’été. In 1871 he became director of the conservatoire, where he opposed apparent German influence, and was hostile to the teaching and music of César Franck. He also continued to oppose the appointment of Gabriel Fauré, who joined the staff of the conservatoire only after Thomas’s death in 1896. In addition to his operas, he left sacred and secular vocal music, with orchestral and instrumental compositions.