1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Thomas, Charles Louis Ambroise
THOMAS, CHARLES LOUIS AMBROISE (1811-1896), French musical composer, was born at Metz on the 5th of August 1811. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, and won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1832. Five years later (in 1837) his first opera, La Double échelle, was produced at the Opéra Comique. For the next five-and-twenty years Thomas's productivity was incessant, and most of his operatic works belonging to this period enjoyed an ephemeral popularity. A few of these are still occasionally heard on the continent, such as Le Caïd (1849), Le Songe d'une nuit d'été (1850), Psyché (1857). The overture to Raymond (1851) has remained popular. So far the composer's operatic career had not been marked by any overwhelming success. He occupied a place among the recognized purveyors of operas in the French capital, but could scarcely claim to having achieved European renown. The production of Mignon at the Opéra Comique in 1866, however, at once raised Ambroise Thomas to the position of one of the foremost French composers. Goethe's touching tale had very happily inspired the musician; Mme Galli Marié, the original interpreter of the title-rôle, had modelled her conception of the part upon the well-known picture by Ary Scheffer, and Mignon at once took the fancy of the public, its success being repeated all over the continent. It has since remained one of the most popular operas belonging to the second half of the 19th century. Thomas now attempted to turn Shakespeare's Hamlet to operatic account. His opera of that name was produced with success at the Paris Opéra in 1868, where it enjoyed a long vogue. If the music is scarcely adequate to the subject, it nevertheless contains some of the composer's best work. The scene of the esplanade is genuinely dramatic, the part of Ophelia is poetically conceived, and the ballet music is very brilliant. Ambroise Thomas's last opera, Françoise de Rimini, was given at the Opera in 1882, but has not maintained itself in the répertoire. Seven years later La Tempête, a ballet founded on Shakespeare's play, was produced at the same theatre. Ambroise Thomas succeeded Auber as director of the Paris Conservatoire in 1871. His music is often distinguished by refined touches which reveal a sensitive mind, and there is a distinct element of poetry in his Mignon and Hamlet, two operas that should suffice to keep the composer's memory green for some time to come. He died on the 12th of February 1896.
- (A. He.)