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Henri Tomasi

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Biography

Henri Tomasi (August 17, 1901 – January 13, 1971) was a French classical composer and conductor.

Henri Tomasi was born in Marseille, France, in the working class neighborhood on August 17, 1901. His father Xavier Tomasi and mother Josephine Vincensi were originally from La Casinca, Corsica. At the age of five, Henri and his family moved to Mazarques, France where his father had a job as a postal worker. At this time his father enrolled Henri in music theory lessons. At the age of seven, Henri entered the Conservatoire de Musique de Marseille. Pressured by his father, Henri played for upper-class families, where he felt “humiliated to be on show like a trained animal.” (Tomasi assoc.) In 1913, the family moved back to Marseille. Tomasi had dreams of becoming a sailor, and skipped many of his music classes. During the summer, he stayed with his grandmother in Corsica and learned traditional Corsican songs. In 1916, Henri won first prize in harmony, along with his friend Zino Francescatti, the celebrated violinist. World War I delayed his entrance into the Paris Conservatoire, so he played piano in Marseille to earn money. He performed in diverse venues such as upscale hotels, restaurants, brothels, and movie houses. His gift for composition was developed during this time as he improvised at the keyboard. The early Charlie Chaplin films also intrigued him.

In 1921, he commenced his studies at the Paris Conservatoire with a scholarship from Marseille and a stipend from a lawyer, Maitre Levy Oulman. He still performed at cafes and in the cinemas to earn money, however.

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