Ambroise Thomas (1811 - 1896)

The son of musicians, Ambroise Thomas was a piano pupil of Kalkbrenner before entering the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied composition with Le Sueur and the piano with Zimmermann. He won prizes for piano, for violin and for composition, finally taking the Prix de Rome, establishing friendship in Rome with the director of the Académie de France, Ingres. He made good use of his time, travelling in Italy and Germany, and returning to Paris to an increasingly successful career. He became director of the Conservatoire in 1871. There his conservatism, expressed in one instance in his unwillingness to allow the appointment of Fauré to the staff, alienated him from the younger generation of composers.

Thomas contributed to various genres of music, but is chiefly known as a composer of opera. Mignon, after Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahr, was first staged at the Opéra-Comique in 1866 and is widely known by name, at least, for its popular Gavotte. Hamlet was first staged two years later at the Opéra.