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Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade was born in Paris in 1857 and died in Monte Carlo in 1944. Although she came from a non-musical family, she was something of a prodigy as a pianist and composer — she began writing sacred music at the age of eight. It was Bizet who advised Chaminade’s parents that she deserved a sound musical education: as she was unable to enter the Conservatoire (which did not then admit women) she studied privately with several teachers. These included Le Couppey (for piano), Savard (for counterpoint, harmony and fugue); she also studied violin with the celebreated Belgian Martin Marsick, a pupil of Joachim, and composition with Benjamin Godard. Furthermore, she attained proficiency as a conductor, made her concert debut at the age of eighteen, toured widely, and became a well-known public figure, eventually receiving the Legion d’Honneur from the French government.
In the course of her long life, Chaminade produced around 350 works including a comic opera, a ballet, a choral symphony entitled Les Amazones, chamber and orchestral music, and about a hundred songs. But the area in which she excelled and was most productive was the short lyric piano piece, and many of these became very popular, bringing her considerable commercial success and fame in France, Britain and the USA. They fed a market of domestic and salon music-making which had little use for profundity or complexity of thought but responded to graceful melody, simple forms, clear textures and dextrous, gracefully-written exploitation of the medium: music, with its "easy velocity", often designed to sound harder to play than it really is.
As a result, for long decades Chaminade’s reputation has been that of a mere purveyor of pleasant but deeply unimportant salon music: an ephemeral figure, virtually beneath musicological notice.
But with the increasing attention being focused in recent years upon the distinct achievements of women composers, and with belated respect thus accruing to such signally gifted figures as Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Lili Boulanger, Rebecca Clarke and Ruth Crawford, the reputation of Chaminade almost certainly calls out for upward revision. After all, as Norman Demuth perceptively remarks in his study of French Piano Music — which, if he cannot quite bring himself to intrude her into his main narrative, at least gives Chaminade a little “interlude” chapter of herself — she was “nearly a genius in that she knew exactly what, and how, to write for pianists of moderate ability... we wish every writer for piano had her innate gifts and could be equally musicianly in their own ways”.
(Excerpt from Piano Music of Cécile Chaminade by Peter Jacobs.)
(Contribution by <email@example.com>.)
Cécile Tardif <Cecile.Tardif@videotron.ca> writes:
In the course of my extensive research of her life, I realised that many myths
surrounded her figure, many of which still circulate today. For example,
there were women students in the Conservatoire de musique de Paris, actually
whole classes of them! Chaminade did not attend, presumably because her
father objected. However, as he was a fairly well-off man and himself a
rather good amateur violinist (her mother was a good pianist and is said to
have had a beautiful voice), he provided some the best teachers for his
daughter (Le Couppey and Savard). If Chaminade’s family was non-musical
strictly speaking, her parents did however know many musicians and held a
rather sought-after musical salon in their apartment in Paris and especially
in their house in Le Vésinet. Bizet was a frequent guest and is indeed
credited with «discovering» her talent. Chaminade developed a friendship
with Marsick and Godard, among many others, but she was not a student of
them. Chaminade was a very good pianist and of course a composer, but she
never was a conductor. As far as I could establish, she conducted twice in
Geneva during one of her numerous tours, this being the extent of her
Chaminade was so popular there were well over 100 Chaminade Clubs, mainly in
the US, devoted to studying her music and corresponding with her, seeking
her advice on numerous subjects, mostly of a musical nature. These clubs are
certainly reminiscent of fan clubs (at a time these did noy yet exist). I
think it would be interesting to identify some of her most famous works:
Automne (Autumn) and Le Pas des écharpes (Scarf Dance), two piano pieces;
L’Anneau d’argent (The Little Silver Ring), an extremely popular song at the
turn of the 19th century; le Trio pour piano, violon et violoncelle, op. 11
(there are recordings of the work) and the Concertino pour flûte, op. 107,
which in 1902 was the Morceau de concours at the Conservatoire national
supérieur de musique de Paris and is still rather well known among flutists.
See the book by Cécile Tardif: “Portrait de Cécile Chaminade”, published in 1993 by Louise Courteau Editrice. (Contributed by Cécile Tardif <firstname.lastname@example.org>.)