Henri Tomasi (1901-1971)

(b Marseilles, 17 Aug 1901; d Paris, 13 Jan 1971). French composer and conductor of Corsican descent. A pupil of Gaubert and others at the Paris Conservatoire, he won the Prix de Rome in 1927 and the Grand Prix de la Musique Française in 1952. During the 1930s he was one of the founders, alongside Prokofiev, Poulenc, Milhaud and Honegger, of the contemporary music group ‘Triton’. He divided his career equally between composing and conducting, and he conducted at many opera houses throughout the world. As a prolific composer, his orchestral music is important, especially the concertos he wrote for solo instruments and orchestra. However, he was attracted above all to the theatre, and it was two of his operas, L’Atlantide and Miguel Mañara, that established his reputation.

Miguel Mañara tells of a mystical Don Juan who has renounced debauchery. The composer’s own origins are reflected in Sampiero Corso, which deals with the oppression of Corsica by the Genoese in the 16th century. In Ulysse, Ulysses is demystified, returning amid ordinary sailors. Tomasi’s postwar works reflect a disillusionment with mankind; L’éloge de la folie, which he described as a cross between opera and ballet, includes references to Nazism and napalm. Tomasi also composed several ballets, and several of his orchestral works were adapted for dance. Before his death he had been working on an operatic version of Hamlet.

His music is intensely direct in feeling, occasionally dissonant and highly coloured; he absorbed influences from his French contemporaries while retaining an individual voice.


A. Machabey: Portraits de trente musiciens français (Paris, 1949)

ReM (1956), no.230 [Tomasi and Corso issue]

B. Gavoty and D. Lesur: Pour ou contre la musique moderne (Paris, 1957)

R. Dumesnil: Histoire de la musique, v (Paris, 1960)

C. Chamfray: ‘In memoriam’, Courrier musical (1971), no.33

F. Ducros: ‘Les opéras d’Henri Tomasi’, Le théâtre lyrique français, 1945–1985, ed. D. Pistone (Paris, 1987), 299–308

‘Hommage à Henri Tomasi’, L’avant-scène opéra, no.109 (1988), 108–39

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