At long last, I’m back with a History Hunt post! This week’s featured musician was a request by patron IllustriousIllusionist. It’s one I’m delighted to fill, as I have fond memories tied to one composition of hers in particular.
Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade was born on August 8, 1857 in Paris, France. Her family was a musical one: her mother was a skilled pianist and singer and her father was a violinist. Like many of the great musicians I’ve featured, Chaminade was a child prodigy. In fact, she was called “My little Mozart” by family friend and Georges Bizet. She was just eight years old when she wrote the first of over four hundred compositions.
Sadly, Chaminade had something else in common with other musician on History Hunt: her father was of the opinion that music was only suitable as a hobby for women, not a career. Though Chaminade was able to study with numerous private teachers thanks to her mother, her father refused to allow her to study at an important music school, the Conservatoire de Paris.
Still, Chaminade did her best to grow musically, even if sometimes she had to go around her father’s back. Her first public recital was when she was eighteen; two years later, she gave another–while her father was away on a business trip!
After that, in spite of her father’s sexist beliefs, Chaminade began a career as a popular concert pianist. She would play her own compositions during these recitals, and her music was well-loved indeed by her audiences. Sometimes, it was so popular that her works would be featured in other large-scale concerts, such as her Suite d’Orchestra (Orchestral Suite), which she wrote when she was 23.
Chaminade also wrote an opera, La Sévillane (The Woman From Seville), but unfortunately, she didn’t have nearly the same level of success. While she did have the opportunity to have it played once, the performance was private, not public, and after that it was never performed again during her lifetime.
Once again, however, Chaminade didn’t give up. Throughout the 1880s, she kept on composing and giving concerts, and in 1888, she found major success with her ballet Callirhoë. It was performed over two hundred times, and not just in France–there was even a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Chaminade’s fame only grew from there. In 1892, she met the Queen of England, Victoria, and quickly became one of her favourite composers. In fact, some of Chaminade’s compositions were even played at the queen’s funeral in 1901! She was also immensely popular in the United States: while she didn’t have the opportunity to give a performance there until 1908, from the 1890s onward, there were over two hundred fan clubs dedicated just to her! And when she did perform there, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and in concert tours across the country, she was a star.
In 1913, Chaminade became the first female composer to be accepted into the French National Order of the Legion of Honour, a tremendous achievement. The future was looking extremely bright for Chaminade–but once World War I began in 1914, her works were almost completely forgotten. It seems extraordinary that a musician who was so popular could disappear so quickly. And yet it’s only been recently that History Hunters have begun to successfully bring Chaminade back into the light. Once again, here’s another lesson on how important it is to keep talking about our favourite musicians, and to listen to and perform their work–otherwise, they might very well be the next to disappear from public knowledge.
Below is Chaminade’s “Automne” (Autumn), a favourite of Queen Victoria:
And which composition is it that I remember fondly? It’s her Concertino in D major for flute and orchestra! One of my fellow students at university used to perform it in masterclasses and I was always so envious that she got to play such a beautiful work. Someday, I hope to get my hands on the sheet music and at last satisfy over a decade of longing!
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To Learn More (Sources):
Cécile Chaminade at Encyclopædia Britannica
French Composers’ Names: Cécile Chaminade by Thea Derks
Cécile Chaminade at AllMusic.com
Sirens of the salon at The Guardian
List of compositions by Cécile Chaminade at Wikipedia.org
Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade at Del-Rio.net (image source)