Destined by his father to the printselling trade, he was allowed, nevertheless, to indulge his fondness for music, and learnt to play at an early age on several instruments, his first teacher being the Tirolean composer, Josef Alois Ladurner (March 7, 1769 - February 20, 1851). Sent at the age of twenty to London to complete his business training, he was obliged to leave England in consequence of the breach of the treaty of Amiens (1804).
He had already attempted musical composition, and at this period produced several concertos pour basse, in the manner of the violoncellist Lamarre, in whose name they were published. The praise given to his concerto for the violin, which was played at the Conservatoire by Mazas, encouraged him to undertake a resetting of the old comic opera, Julie (1811). Conscious by this time of the need of regular study of his chosen art, he placed himself under the severe training of Cherubini, by which the special qualities of the young composer were admirably developed.
In 1813 the unfavourable reception of his one-act debut opera Le séjour militaire put an end for some years to his attempts as composer. But the failure in business and death of his father, in 1819, compelled him once more to turn to music, and to make that which had been his dream the serious employment of his life. He produced another opera, Le testament et les billets-doux (1819), which was no better received than the former. But he persevered, and the next year was rewarded by the complete success of La bergère châtelaine, an opera in three acts.
This was the first in a long series of brilliant successes. In 1822 began his long association with Eugène Scribe as librettist. The opera of Leicester, in which they first worked together (1823), is remarkable also as showing evidences of the influence of Rossini. But his own style was an individual one, marked by lightness, sparkling vivacity, grace and elegance, clear and piquant of melody— characteristically French. In La muette de Portici, familiarly known as Masaniello, Auber achieved his greatest musical triumph. Produced at Paris in 1828, it rapidly became a European favourite, and its overture, songs and choruses were everywhere heard. The duet, 'Amour sacré de la patrie,' was welcomed like a new Marseillaise; sung by Nourrit at Brussels in 1830, it engendered a riot that became the signal for the revolution which broke out there.
Of Auber's remaining operas (about 50 in all) the more important are:
Official and other dignities testified the public appreciation of Auber's works. In 1829 he was elected a member of the Institute, in 1830 he was named director of the court concerts, and in 1842, at the wish of Louis Philippe, he succeeded Cherubini as director of the Conservatoire. He was also a member of the Legion of Honour from 1825, and attained the rank of commander in 1847. Napoleon III made Auber his Imperial Maitre de Chapelle in 1857. Fascinating manners, his witty sayings, and his ever-ready kindness and beneficence won for him a secure place in the respect and love of his fellow-citizens. He remained in his old home during the German siege of Paris, 1870-71, but the miseries of the Paris Commune which followed sickened his heart, and died in Paris on the 13th of May 1871.
See Adolph Kohut, 'Auber,' vol. xvii. of Musiker Biographien Leipzig, 1895.