Camille Saint-Saens (L) and Theodore Dubois (R) on the streets of Paris
Theodore Dubois was a French composer, organist, and music teacher who wrote many religious works, hoped for a bigger career as an opera composer, and composed ballets, oratorios, and symphonies. Occasionally his “The Seven Last Words of Christ” and Toccata in G for Organ are still performed.
Dubois was director of the Paris Conservatoire who resigned under somewhat controversial circumstances. Two months before the Prix de Rome (a French scholarship awarded to arts students to live and study in Rome) was to be awarded, Dubois – himself a recipient – was embroiled in a judging scandal, not unlike the kind that plagued figure skating in the late 90s and early 00’s.
Ravel applied for the Prix five times. Previous winners include Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, and Debussy. On his second attempt, he won 2nd Prize. The third and fourth tries didn’t pan out; the judges wondered if Ravel was mocking the process with his overly academically-inclined works. On his fifth try, in 1905, Ravel’s elimination caused a kerfuffle. He was eliminated in the first round, and a juror member’s students all made the final round, causing some upset. Even Ravel’s critics found this unacceptable, and Dubois, who was involved in the administration of the Prix de Rome, took early retirement; Gabriel Faure replaced him. Dubois seemed quite against anything new or revolutionary; he actually forbade Conservatoire students from attending the premiere of Debussy’s opera Pélleas et Mélisande. Ravel, bless his heart, attended all fourteen performances.
The Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra performs the Introduction to “The Seven Last Words of Christ”.
Theodore Dubois was born August 24, 1837 in Mame, France, and died June 11, 1924 in Paris.