A product of extensive classical training, Théodore Dubois was a characteristic representative of late nineteenth century French musicians.
Although he composed prolifically, his works were not generally well-received because of their stiffness and lack of emotional depth. He is best known for his excellent theoretical texts which are still widely studied by composition students. After early training with Louis Fanart, choirmaster at the cathedral in Rheims, Dubois continued his musical studies at the Conservatoire in Paris. Upon winning the Prix de Rome in 1861 and with the encouragement of Franz Liszt, he returned to teach at the Conservatoire from 1871 to 1890. During that time, he also served as maitre de chapelle at Ste Clotilde where he produced his best known oratorio, Les sept paroles du Christ, on Good Friday, 1867. Although his comic opera La Guzla de l'Emir was offered at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in 1873, Dubois had to content himself with presenting most of his works at less important Parisian venues. In 1877, he replaced Camille Saint-Saëns as organist at the Madeleine and when he won the prize at the Concours Musical in 1878 his oratorio, Le paradis perdu, was performed in Paris at public expense. Succeeding Ambrose Thomas as director of the Conservatoire in 1896, Dubois held that position until 1905. While there, he wrote three of his six textbooks on composition and harmony including Traité de contrepoint et de fugue which is still widely used by composition students. After leaving the Conservatoire, Dubois composed a variety of works including three symphonies and several motets for voice and organ. He also completed his final theoretical text Traité d'harmonie théorique et pratique in 1921 and continued to live in Paris until his death in 1924.