Adolphe Charles Adam (July 24, 1803 – May 3, 1856) was a French composer and music critic. He is best known today for his ballets Giselle (1844) and Le Corsaire (1856, his last work), his opera Les Toréadors]] (AKA Le toréador ou L'accord parfait) (1849), and his Christmas carol O Holy Night (1847).
Adam was born in Paris where his father Louis Adam (1758-1848) (born Johann Ludwig Adam in Muttersholtz, Alsace), a pianist and composer was professor at the Paris Conservatoire. His mother was the daughter of a physician. As a child, Adolphe Adam preferred to improvise music of his own rather than study music seriously. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1821 where he studied organ and harmonium under François-Adrien Boieldieu, also playing the triangle in the orchestra of the conservatoire in order to gain experience in rhythm and sight reading (many of his compositions exploit the use of the triangle a great deal). However, he did not win the Grand Prix de Rome and his father did not encourage him to pursue a music as a career.
By the time he was 20, he was writing songs for Paris vaudeville houses and playing in the orchestra at the Gymnasie Dramatique, where he later became chorus master. Like many other French composers, he made a living largely by playing the organ.
In 1825, he helped Boieldieu prepare parts for La dame blanche and made a piano reduction of the score. He was able to travel through Europe with the money he made, and he met Eugène Scribe, with whom he was later to collaborate, in Geneva. By 1830, he had completed 28 theater works.
Adam is probably best remembered for the ballet Giselle (1841). He wrote several other ballets and 39 operas, including Le postillon de Lonjumeau (1836) and Si j'étais roi (1852).
After quarreling with the director of the Opéra, Adam invested his money and borrowed heavily to open a third opera house in Paris: the Théâtre National. It opened in 1847, but had to be closed because of the Revolution of 1848, leaving Adam with overwhelming debts. He briefly turned to journalism to try to extricate himself. From 1849 to his death, he taught composition at the Paris Conservatoire.
His Christmas carol "Cantique de Noël", often known by its English title "O Holy Night", has become an international favourite and may have been the first music broadcast on radio . Although there are modern-day claims that Adam was Jewish , these seem to lack substantiation. He was, at least at the end of his life, a Catholic. (From the obituary, May 4, 1856, in "La France Musicale": "Les obsèques de M. Adolphe Adam auront lieu lundi 5 mai, à 11 heures, en l'église de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, sa paroisse." "The funeral of Mr. Adolphe Adam will take place Monday, May 5, in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, his parish." And from the report of his funeral, in the May 11 issue: "Après la cérémonie religieuse,...." "After the religious ceremony,....".)
He died in Paris and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery.
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