(Charles Louis) Ambroise Thomas (Metz August 5, 1811 - Paris, February 12, 1896) was a French opera composer, best-known for his operas Mignon (1866) and his Shakespearean Hamlet (1868). His parents were music teachers and prepared him to become a musician. By age 10 he was already an excellent pianist and violinist. In 1828, he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Jean-François Le Sueur while at the same time continuing his piano studies privately with the famous virtuoso pianist 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 a year. He took with him a love for Mozart and Beethoven but once in Rome 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--a piano trio, a string quintet and a string quartet, all of which reflect his new style of writing.
His first opera, La Double Echelle (1837), was produced at the Opéra Comique. For the next quarter of a century Thomas's productivity was incessant, and most of his operatic works belonging to this period enjoyed a great, if ephemeral, popularity. They are hampered by their libretti, but a few of them are occasionally revived as historic curiosities or recorded as vehicles for bel canto singers: Le Caïd (1849), Le Songe d'une nuit d'été (1850; loosely adapted from Shakespeare), Psyché (1857). Some of his overtures appear on concert programs: the overture to Raymond (1851), for instance, receives the occasional revival.
To his theatrical successes, Thomas added administrative achievements. In 1856 he acquired a professorship at the Conservatoire, where he taught, among others, Massenet, one of the few French composers of the younger generation whose music interested him. He succeeded Auber as director of the Conservatoire in 1871, retaining his post until his death. Baffled by the musical unconventionalities of César Franck and certain other Conservatoire colleagues, he nevertheless was rather well liked as a man, even by those who found his output old-fashioned.
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