Adolphe Adam

Adolphe Charles Adam (French: [adolf adɑ̃]; 24 July 1803 – 3 May 1856)[1] was a French composer and music critic. A prolific composer of operas and ballets, he is best known today for his ballets Giselle (1841) and Le corsaire (1856, his last work), his operas Le postillon de Lonjumeau (1836), Le toréador (1849) and Si j'étais roi (1852) [n 1] and his Christmas carol Minuit, chrétiens! (1844), later set to different English lyrics and widely sung as "O Holy Night" (1847). Adam was a noted teacher, who taught Delibes[n 2] and other influential composers.

Adolphe Adam 1850 - Charles Vogt - Gallica
Adolphe Adam, Lithograph, 1850
Adolphe Adam -1856 -sized
"Maestro Adolphe Adam".
Photograph. Paris, circa 1855
Adolphe Adam 1
Detail of Adolphe Adam engraving from the library of the Royal College of Music, London

Life and career

Adolphe Adam was born in Paris, to Jean-Louis Adam (1758–1848), who was a prominent Alsatian composer, as well a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. His mother was the daughter of a physician. As a child, Adolphe Adam preferred to improvise music on his own rather than study music seriously and occasionally truanted with writer Eugène Sue who was also something of a dunce in early years. Jean-Louis Adam was a pianist and teacher but was firmly set against the idea of his son following in his footsteps. Adam was determined, however, and studied and composed secretly under the tutelage of his older friend Ferdinand Hérold, a popular composer of the day. When Adam was 17, his father relented, and he was permitted to study at the Paris Conservatoire—but only after he promised that he would learn music only as an amusement, not as a career.[2] He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1821, where he studied organ and harmonium under the celebrated opera composer François-Adrien Boieldieu. Adam also played the timpani in the orchestra of the Conservatoire; however, he did not win the Prix de Rome and his father did not encourage him to pursue a music career, as he won second prize.[3]

By age 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 his opera La dame blanche and made a piano reduction of the score. Adam was able to travel through Europe with the money he made, and he met Eugène Scribe, with whom he later collaborated, in Geneva. By 1830, he had completed twenty-eight works for the theatre.

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 fourth opera house in Paris: the Théâtre National (Opéra-National). It opened in 1847, but closed because of the Revolution of 1848, leaving Adam with massive debts (Théâtre National later was resurrected under the name of Théâtre Lyrique at the Boulevard du Temple). His efforts to extricate himself from these debts include a brief turn to journalism.[1] From 1849 to his death in Paris, he taught composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

His Christmas carol "Cantique de Noël", translated to English as "O Holy Night", is an international favorite, and has been widely recorded. "Cantique de Noel" is based on a poem written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure. Adam subsequently crafted a melody for the poem that was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1813 - 1893), a Boston music teacher and music journalist, as well as co-founder of The Harvard Music Society.

Adam is buried in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.



  1. ^ Si j'étais roi, particularly in France, is often regarded as his finest work.
  2. ^ Delibes is widely known in the English speaking world for writing The Flower Duet, Lakmé, Coppélia and Sylvia.
  1. ^ a b Randel, Don Michael, ed. (1996). "Adam, Adolphe (Charles)". The Harvard biographical dictionary of music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press. ISBN 0-674-37299-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Adolphe Adam | Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  3. ^ "Orange". Retrieved 21 November 2016.

External links

Faust ballets

Faust ballets are a set of ballets, choreographed between the 18th and 20th centuries, based on the legend of Faust. As early as 1723, London-based John Rich put on a Faust-inspired ballet pantomime called The Necromancer at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre. In the 19th century several productions took Faust as their subject matter including August Bournonville's 1832 production Faust for the Royal Danish Ballet.In 1833, Andre Deshayes' Faust premiered in London with music by Adolphe Adam. Fanny Elssler danced the role of Gretchen in Jules Perrot's 1848 Milan production. In 1852 Paul Taglioni, brother of Maria Taglioni (the first ballerina to dance en pointe), choreographed Satanella oder Metamorphosen with music by composed by Peter Ludwig Hertel. A few years later, Julius Reisinger's Mephistophelia premiered in Hamburg and Meyer Lutz composed the score for Joseph Lanner's 1895 production.The trend continued into the 20th century with ballets created by Remislav Remislavsky, Heiner Luipart and female choreograpaher Nina Kirsanova based on an unstaged 19th century libretto Der Doktor Faust, written by Heinrich Heine. Romantic composer Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust was staged by French choreographer Maurice Béjart for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1964). Béjart's 1975 production Notre Faust was set to Bach's B minor Mass. Béjart himself danced in Notre Faust at its New York City premiere in 1977.

Giralda ou La nouvelle psyché

Giralda ou La nouvelle psyché is an opéra comique with music by Adolphe Adam and a text by Eugène Scribe. It had its first performance at the Opéra-Comique theatre, Paris, on 20 July 1850.


Giselle (French: Giselle, ou les Wilis [ʒi.zɛl u le]) is a romantic ballet in two acts. It was first performed by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique at the Salle Le Peletier in Paris, France on 28 June 1841, with Italian ballerina Carlotta Grisi as Giselle. The ballet was an unqualified triumph. Giselle became hugely popular and was staged at once across Europe, Russia, and the United States. The traditional choreography that has been passed down to the present day derives primarily from the revivals staged by Marius Petipa during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg.

"Giselle" is a masterwork in the classical ballet performance canon. The ghost-filled ballet tells the tragic, romantic story of a beautiful young peasant girl who falls for the flirtations of the deceitful and disguised nobleman Albrecht. When the ruse is revealed, the fragile Giselle dies of heartbreak, and Albrecht must face the otherworldly consequences of his careless seduction. One of the world's most-often performed classical ballets, it is also one of its most challenging to dance.Librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier took their inspiration for the plot from a prose passage about the Wilis in De l'Allemagne, by Heinrich Heine, and from a poem called "Fantômes" in Les Orientales by Victor Hugo.

The prolific opera and ballet composer Adolphe Adam composed the music. Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot created the choreography. The role of Giselle was intended for Carlotta Grisi as her debut piece for the Paris public. She became the first to dance the role and was the only ballerina to dance it at the Opéra for many years.

The ballet is about a peasant girl named Giselle, who dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover, Albrecht, is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of mystic and supernatural women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle's great love frees him from their grasp. The Wilis are particularly haunting characters. They are the spirits of virgin girls who died before they married. These creatures were very popular in Romantic-era ballets. Led by Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis, they gain their power in numbers as they effortlessly move through dramatic patterns and synchronized movements, and control the stage with their long tulle dresses and stoic expressions. Appearing ethereal, the presence of the Wilis is intended to create an eerie mood that builds as the ballet continues and they enclose on Albrecht. They are ruthless and hateful of men because they have all died of a broken heart. Giselle finds forgiveness in her heart for Albrecht, but she knows the Wilis will not do the same. Their goal is clear and they are relentless on their quest; in saving Albrecht, Giselle at the same time saves herself from becoming one of them. The Wilis are one of the most iconic characters in Giselle and dominate the second act.

La fille du Danube

La Fille du Danube (The Daughter of the Danube) is a ballet in two acts and four scenes, choreographed by Filippo Taglioni to music by Adolphe Adam.

La poupée de Nuremberg

La poupée de Nuremberg (English: The Nuremberg Doll) is a one-act opéra comique by Adolphe Adam to a libretto by Adolphe de Leuven and Arthur de Beauplan. The story is based on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s short story Der Sandmann. The work predates other stage adaptations of Hoffmann's tale, Coppélia and The Tales of Hoffmann.

It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre Lyrique on 21 February 1852. Berlioz described it as "a whole emporium of waltzes, galops, potpourris… worthy of the Nuremberg fair." It was performed nearly one hundred times at the Théâtre Lyrique over the following 18 years.

Le Corsaire

Le Corsaire is a ballet typically presented in three acts, with a libretto originally created by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges loosely based on the poem The Corsair by Lord Byron. Originally choreographed by Joseph Mazilier to the music of Adolphe Adam, it was first presented by the ballet of the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris on 23 January 1856. All modern productions of Le Corsaire are derived from the revivals staged by the Ballet Master Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg throughout the mid to late 19th century.

The ballet has many celebrated passages which are often excerpted from the full-length work and performed independently: the scene Le Jardin animé, the Pas d’esclave, the Pas de trois des odalisques, and the so-called Le Corsaire pas de deux, which is among classical ballet's most famous and performed excerpts.

Le chalet

Le chalet is an opéra comique in one act by Adolphe Adam to a French libretto by Eugène Scribe and Mélesville after the singspiel Jery und Bätely by Goethe. The score re-uses material from Adam's Prix de Rome cantata Ariane a Naxos (1825). The text for the singspiel had previously been set to music by Peter Winter, 1790, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, 1801, and Conradin Kreutzer, 1810, and later by Donizetti, 1836, Julius Rietz, 1841, Heinrich Stihl, 1867, and Ingeborg Bronsart, 1873.

Le diable à quatre (ballet)

Le Diable à quatre is a ballet in two acts and three scenes (or in three acts), with choreography by Joseph Mazilier, music by Adolphe Adam, and libretto by Adolphe de Leuven, first presented by the Ballet of the Académie Royale de Musique on 11 August 1845, with Carlotta Grisi (as Mazourka) and Lucien Petipa (as Count Polinski).

Le postillon de Lonjumeau

Le postillon de Lonjumeau (The Postillion of Lonjumeau) is an opéra-comique in three acts by Adolphe Adam to a French libretto by 'Adolphe de Leuven' and 'Brunswick' (pen names of Adolphe von Ribbing and Léon Lévy).

The opera has become the most successful of Adam's works, and the one by which (apart from his ballet Giselle and his Christmas carol Cantique de Noël) he is best known outside his native France. The opera is known for the difficult aria 'Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire' which has been called a test for tenors because of the demanding high D, or D5, at the end of the aria.

Le toréador

Le toréador, ou L'accord parfait (The Toreador, or The Perfect Agreement) is an opéra comique in two acts by the French composer Adolphe Adam with a libretto by Thomas-Marie-François Sauvage. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique, Paris on May 18, 1849. It was a huge success and the work regularly appeared in the repertoire of the Opéra-Comique until 1869. Adam made use of several familiar pieces of music in the score. The most famous number is a series of variations on "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman" (better known as the melody of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" in the English-speaking world). The opera also quotes the aria "Tandis que tout sommeille" from Grétry's L'amant jaloux and "Je brûlerai d'une flamme éternelle" from the same composer's Le tableau parlant as well as popular folk tunes, including the Spanish fandango, cachucha and follia. In spite of this, there is little attempt to give the score local colour. The opera was originally intended to be a single act but was split in two to allow the soprano time to recover her breath in a taxing role.

List of operas by Adolphe Adam

This is a list of the complete operas of the French opera composer Adolphe Adam (1803–1856). Unless otherwise noted, all premieres took place in Paris.

Best known for his opéras comiques, of which he wrote 36, Adam actually began his career with a series of 19 vaudevilles. He also composed three opéras, two opérettes, two pasticcios, one drame lyrique, one opéra-ballet and one scène-prologue, in addition to works variously designated as drama, drama with songs, historical melodrama and military spectacle.

Loïsa Puget

Loïsa Puget (11 February 1810 – 24 October 1889) was a French composer.

Léo Delibes

Clément Philibert Léo Delibes (French: [klemɑ̃ filibɛʁ leo dəlib]; 21 February 1836 – 16 January 1891) was a French composer of the Romantic era (1815–1910), who specialised in ballets, operas, and other works for the stage. His most notable works include the ballets Coppélia (1870) and Sylvia (1876), as well as the operas Le roi l'a dit (1873) and Lakmé (1883).

Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire

"Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire", is a tenor aria in Adolphe Adam's 1836 opera Le postillon de Lonjumeau. The D5 in the final verse is the highest commonly sung note for tenors in opera. Donizetti wrote an E♭5 for Edgardo in the first act of his opera Lucia di Lammermoor, though it is very seldom sung. Higher notes are occasionally sung in interpolations and ornaments in other bel canto operas, and exceptionally the written F5 at the end of "Credeasi, misera" in Bellini's I puritani.

Famous performers of this aria are Nicolai Gedda, Helge Rosvaenge and Joseph Schmidt, often performing the German version, "Freunde, vernehmet die Geschichte".

O Holy Night

"O Holy Night" (French: "Minuit, chrétiens", "Minuit, chrétien" in original edition, or "Cantique de Noël") is a well-known Christmas carol composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" (Midnight, Christians) written by wine merchant and poet Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). In both the French original and the English version of the carol, as well as in many other languages, the text reflects on the birth of Jesus and on humanity's redemption.


The Opéra-National was a Parisian opera company that the French composer Adolphe Adam founded in 1847 to provide an alternative to the two primary French opera companies in Paris, the Opéra and the Opéra-Comique. The goals of the new company were to "foster new compositional talent," revive opéras comiques from an earlier period, and produce opera at a lower ticket price for a wider public.The company first performed in the relatively large Cirque Olympique on the Boulevard du Temple, in a working class district of Paris. Financial difficulties and the turmoil of the 1848 Revolution caused the company to close in March of that year. It was revived under a new director, Edmond Seveste, in 1851, when it moved to the Théâtre Historique, a short distance away on the Boulevard du Temple. In 1852 the company was renamed Théâtre Lyrique and operated under that name until 1872.

Pas de trois

In ballet, pas de trois [pɑ də tʁwɑ] is a French term usually referring to a dance between three people. Typically, a pas de trois in ballet consists of five parts:

Entrée (the opening number for the three dancers, usually preceded by a short introduction)

Variation (or solo) for the 1st dancer

Variation for the 2nd dancer

Variation for the 3rd dancer

Coda (a finale usually set to music of a quick tempo in which the dancers bring the piece to a spectacular finish)Today, the most celebrated pas de trois in the classical ballet repertory are derived from the works of the great choreographer Marius Petipa. Although the Balletmaster created many pas de trois for the near 150 ballets he created throughout his career in Russia, only three survive: the Pas de trois des Odalisques from his revival of the ballet Le Corsaire (set to the music of Adolphe Adam and Cesare Pugni, choreographed for three women); the Paquita Pas de trois added to his 1881 revival of the ballet Paquita (set to the music of Ludwig Minkus and Eduard Deldevez, sometimes referred to as the Golden Pas de trois or Minkus Pas de trois, and choreographed for two women and one man); and the Pas de trois from the first act of his 1895 revival of the ballet Swan Lake (choreographed for two women and one man).

Typically, Petipa fashioned the Entrée of a pas de trois in such a way so that the dancer who performs the first variation exits the stage about three quarters of the way through in order to rest and prepare for his or her solo.

Placide Cappeau

Placide Cappeau (25 October 1808 – 8 August 1877) was a French poet and the author of the well-known poem, "Minuit, chrétiens" ("O Holy Night") (1847), which was set to music by Adolphe Adam.

Si j'étais roi

Si j'étais roi (English: If I Were King) is an opéra comique in three acts by Adolphe Adam. The libretto was written by Adolphe d'Ennery and Jules-Henri Brésil. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre Lyrique (Théâtre-Historique, Boulevard du Temple) on 4 September 1852, opening with a dual cast to allow performance on successive evenings (it made up half of all performances at the Théâtre Lyrique in the last four months of the year and reached over 170 performances in its first ten years). The production was considered lavish, with expensive costumes and jewels being worn by the cast.It was then staged in Brussels (1853), New Orleans (1856), Turin (1858) and Soerabaya (1864).Though less popular than Le postillon de Lonjumeau, it is often regarded as Adam's finest work. The well-developed overture was once very popular, particularly on recordings. Vocal highlights include the soprano air "De vos nobles aïeux" and the couplets for baritone "Dans le sommeil, l'amour".

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