Henri Tomasi, classical music composer

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Henri Tomasi


The son of working-class parents originally from Corsica, Henri Tomasi was born on August 17, 1901in Marseille, France. He began his music lessons at the age of five, and two years later he entered the Conservatoire de Musique de Marseille. At the bidding of his father, Tomasi played for upper-class families, though he detested doing so and felt humiliated as he performed "like a trained animal." Yet, Tomasi's first love was not music. He had hopes of becoming a sailor and frequently skipped his music classes. Music, however, would ultimately become Tomasi's career.

The outbreak of World War I delayed Tomasi's plans to enter the prestigious Paris Conservatoire, and during the war he remained in Marseille performing as a means of earning a living. He began improvising and in doing so his talent as a composer began to emerge. In 1921, he finally began his studies at the Conservatoire, and continued to perform for money in his spare time. He was a "workaholic," as his friend Maurice Franck described him, and excelled in his studies, winning in 1927 the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Coriolan and First Prize for Orchestral Conducting.

After his time at the Paris Conservatoire, Tomasi divided his time between composing and conducting. Between 1930 and 1935, he served as the music director for the Radio Colonial Orchestra in French Indochina, and became a pioneer in the field of "radiophonic" music. Indeed, his 1936 recording of Gluck's Orfeo won him the Grand Prix du Disque. As a composer, he associated with Prokofiev, Milhaud, Honegger and Poulenc.

With the second outbreak of war across the European continent, Tomasi was drafted into the French army in 1939 as a marching band director at Villefranche sur Mer. However, he was discharged the following year and subsequently took the conductor's post at the Orchestre national de la Radiodiffusion française. In 1946, he became conductor of the Opera de Monte Carlo as his fame and demand across Europe increased. The aftermath of the war, however, destroyed his faith in both man and religion. A Requiem, written in honor of those who served and died for the French resistance movement during the war, was abandoned and not discovered until a quarter of a century after the composer's death. His fame as composer nevertheless grew in the subsequent years. His most well-known composition, the Concerto for Trumpet, was completed in 1948 and the much-anticipated premiere of his opera Don Juan de Mañara in 1956 solidified his place as a composer for the stage.

A growing deafness in his right ear forced Tomasi to give up conducting in 1957. Nonetheless he continued to compose, yet his last works began to take on a decided political tone. On January 13, 1971, Tomasi passed away at his apartment in Paris.

Composer Title Date Action
Henri Tomasi Ballade 05/07/2009 Play Add to playlist