She persisted and created her own success in defiance of the sexism faced at home and abroad. We explore her life, works you need to hear, and even hear a 122-year-old recording of Chaminade herself!
Learn more about music written by women with these resources
Chaminade, as sketched by Marguerite Martyn in St. Louis, Missouri (1908)
Below are some of the works mentioned in the podcast, some are new recordings and one of them is of Chaminade herself!
John Banther: I'm John Banther, and this is Classical Breakdown. From WETA Classical in Washington, we're your guide to classical music. In this episode, I'm joined by WETA Classical's Evan Keely, and we are talking about 20th century French composer Cécile Chaminade. She found enormous popularity in the United States and England with her piano miniatures and songs, but she also wrote for the orchestra and the stage, so we explored her musical characteristics and how she found her own success. Plus stay with us to the end to hear a recording of Chaminade herself at the piano
Let's start this episode, Evan, with a quote from Chaminade herself that appeared in a Washington Post interview she did, well over a century ago.
She said, " I do not believe that the few women who have achieved greatness in creative work are the exception, but I think that life has been hard on women. It has not given them opportunity, it has not made them convincing. A woman has not been considered a working force in the world, and the work that her sex and conditions impose upon her has not been so adjusted as to give her a little fuller scope for the development of her best self. She has been handicapped and only the few through force of circumstances or inherent strength have been able to get the better of that handicap. There is no sex and art. Genius is an independent quality. The woman of the future with her broader outlook, her greater opportunities will go far, I believe, in creative work of every description."
Now, Evan, that is quite a quote to have from a composer and a major newspaper in the Washington Post, and it says so much, doesn't it?
Evan Keely: Well, and we see these conflicts and paradoxes throughout her life as we'll discover in this conversation.
John Banther: Yes, and that quote and several others we'll be mentioning were compiled in a biography on Chaminade by Marcia J. Citrons from 1988. And stay with us to the end, because we'll hear an actual recording of Cécile Chaminade at the piano. But Evan, start us off here. Where and when was Chaminade born? What was it like in her early life?
Evan Keely: John, Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade was born in Paris on the 8th day of August in 1857. Her parents were enthusiastic amateur musicians. Her father worked for a major insurance firm and the family was rather affluent. They owned a property just outside Paris. Le Vésinet was the name of the residence. And over the years, that actually became Cécile Chaminade's primary home for many years. And it was a place where there was a lot of music making happening and a lot of prominent people would come by.
George Bizet made a visit to Le Vésinet in 1869. Cécile Chaminade would have been 11 or 12 years old at that point, and she got to play for him and they got to talk a bit, and he was quite impressed with her musicianship. So, you can imagine the effects this had on this child, this girl, meeting this composer who is 1869 in the final half dozen years of his life.
She was probably already composing at that point. We do have a biography of her by her niece that was published probably in the late 1940s, a few years after Cécile Chaminade's death. And her niece claims that Cécile Chaminade was already composing music by the age of seven. We're not really sure about that, but clearly, a precocious talent, both as a pianist and a composer from a very early age.
And then in the late 1860s, she got to meet Félix Le Couppey, who was an instructor at the Paris Conservatory. He was also very impressed with her. He actually wanted her to enroll at the conservatory, but her father felt that this was not an appropriate thing for a young lady to be doing. She did, however, get private lessons with Le Couppey instead as well as others, including probably, Benjamin Godard, another French composer of the late 19th Century. Not really clear exactly what their relationship was or how much they interacted, but certainly, he's an influence on her as well. There's even evidence, she met Franz Liszt at some point in the late 1860s, and he was also impressed with her playing and her musicianship.
So, clearly, this is someone, who at a very early age, child prodigy is not an inappropriate way to describe her. Very dedicated, very talented, and clearly, willing to showcase herself, both as a performer, as a pianist, specifically and as a composer. Seventeen- years- old, she was among those who were at the disastrous first performance of George Bezit's Carmen at the Opéra Comique Opera House in Paris in March of 1875. And over the years, she remained a defender and admirer of Bezit's music, and there was a lot, I think, a lot of bitterness on her part about how Bezit had been treated by the musical establishment.
John Banther: It's so interesting to see, well, I can only imagine composers like Bezit and Liszt coming over and hearing her play and say, " She's amazing. Is she going to the conservatory? What is she? Is she going to? She needs lessons. She needs something because there is something here." Not just one, but two major composers.
Evan Keely: And we see also the paradoxes in her upbringing. Clearly, her family is encouraging her musicianship to some extent. Someone taught her to play the piano. She's composing music. And early on in life, as a teenager, she starts giving these recitals at this home, Le Vésinet, their family home outside of Paris. It's a kind of musical salon where all these, like we said, these famous people are showing up from time to time and she's giving these recitals of mostly her own music at these performances. These are among her first, probably, her first appearances among the people outside of the family. And that becomes a template for her whole life.
She does this throughout her career, touring around. We're going to be talking about more about this, John. Touring around the world, performing her own music, and developing a following among people who admire and appreciate her. And that starts early on. And yet her father quite insistent that she not enroll in the conservatory. So, we see these contradictions in the way in which she grows up and in the environment in which her musicianship as a composer and a performer is being nurtured.
John Banther: So, let's take a look at some of her early music, one of which was composed before one of those recitals, you mentioned. Maybe it was played on it. This is really her Opus 1A, the Opus 1 itself. I think it's lost. We don't have it, but 1A, we do. And there's a recording of it. It's her Étude Printanière or Premier Etude.
Now, Evan, we hear a lot of Opus 1s from composers, especially on this podcast and that one, it reminds me of many others. It's simple, it's charming, a definite study of chord progressions and arpeggios. But really more importantly, and some of the other opus ones, it goes straight to the heart. There's something about it and it grabs you. There's some it factor, even in something just like that and maybe that's what Bizet and Liszt were picking up on, hearing her play, even much younger than this.
Evan Keely: One of the things about Chaminade's development as a composer that's interesting is that she develops the fundamental characteristics of her style early on. And they don't really change through the course of her life as a composer. You look at a composer like Brahms or Johann Sebastian Bach. Starting off the early works and the late works, there's not always a huge difference. Contrast that with a composer like Beethoven, for example. A very different compositions early in life versus late in life.
So, even in this Étude Printanière, this very first piece you already hear the characteristics of her style. Like you said, John, the chord progressions, the mastery of harmony, and there's this lyrical quality. We'll be exploring this through the episode. This singing quality in so much of her music. Even the lot of it, which isn't folk lore music, like this piece for example, has a singing, this cantabile lyrical quality.
John Banther: Cantabile, that singing quality, that's absolutely what I think we'll really hear in her music. And just a few years later, in 1880, so really in her early 20s now, she has her Opus 11, a piano trio, and these are some of her more still popularly performed works. And even just a few years later, there is a natural, but also drastic rise in the maturity compared to that Opus 1A we just heard. The opening to this, it's just, it's arresting and really, it's just fun to listen to. There's always something happening. You're always being carried forward. It's just a joy to listen to. And we should be listening to this more often.
Now, as you said, this would be indicative of the style she would carry through her career. And many artists have that. Some artists will paint one scene or one type of object thousands of times over their career, even just numbers even, and some go with the times and are constantly changing. What strikes me about this piano trio and her style is that there's just three musicians here playing, and it sounds so full, so colorful and so imaginative.
And I think for me, that's a hallmark of a truly great composer, being able to write something that sounds larger than its parts, especially when there's just two people playing. There's no lack of foundation. The bottom doesn't drop out. You don't feel like something is missing. And that comes from her being able to write so idiomatically for all of these instruments and the effervescent and I think already, pointillistic sound in the piano is coming through here.
Evan Keely: She really does have a gift for ensemble composing. John. I really agree with what you're saying. One of the things that's interesting about that, too, with this piece and other works, she writes a huge number of smaller pieces. A lot of her music is works for solo piano or works for voice and piano. And in terms of the sheer number of compositions that she creates through the course of her life. To some extent, I think this piece, the Opus 11 piano trio is maybe more in the realm of what we might call composer's music, composer writing for herself.
A lot of the pieces that she writes are very short, they're very accessible. Not to say anything in derogation of these wonderful works, but this is a much more expansive, a much more, dare I say, complex piece. And she's clearly quite in her element there as well as she is in the piano miniatures for which she's also so well- remembered.
John Banther: Yes. Speaking of the miniatures you were just talking about that serenade Opus 29 for me is a clear example of a lot of the things we've been talking about. The cantabile style that you're talking about, the singing, there's no words. This is just piano, but this sounds like a song. It sounds like there's something more here, but it's just the piano.
Evan Keely: Definitely a characteristic of her style in most of her compositions and one of the many things that makes her music so compelling.
John Banther: Some of the works are quite virtuosic. Some of them are on the more simple side, some are in between. Sometimes it's a whole combination of all of that, like in her sixth concert, Études, from 1886, so we're moving forward a little bit. I think one of these, her second one, Autumn, was I think one of her most popular ones. I mean, again, this is just more music from her. I wish we could hear it, even more often.
Evan Keely: And I hope that this episode will be among the things that do garner more and more interests in this very fine composer.
John Banther: So far, we've learned and we know she's a great musician. She's a great composer. She received great private instruction from the Paris Conservatory. She's having some of these concerts at Le Vésinet. As great as the situation sounds so far, it's actually not as good as it seems because she was not allowed to actually attend the conservatory, which to this day is still a major part in developing a music performing career. Not the only one, but it's still a big one.
You are studying with multiple teachers who have all kinds of different vantage points. You are performing with your friends, your peers. You are studying together. You're bouncing ideas off of each other. You're networking. And that idea continues for decades through a musician's career. She doesn't have access to any of that, and that really limits what she would do later on as well.
Evan Keely: You really see that throughout her career, John. She certainly has relationships with other composers. (inaudible) , for example, was someone who knew her and admired her, we talked about. She probably studied, at least briefly, with Benjamin Godard. And yet, as you said, not going to the conservatory, not being in that environment where you're immersed in these relationships with other musicians, you really see that as a deficit throughout her career. You, especially, see it, I think, in the fact that she's very popular in a lot of places, as you and I will discuss. But Paris is a place where she never quite really gets a toehold in the musical scene, to the extent that maybe a conservatory- connected composer would have.
John Banther: Yes, that's a good point. And she did find a lot of her success and premieres outside of Paris, in the provinces or as we'll learn, abroad as well. So, she's getting into her 20s now, approaching 30, I think, and she's writing, and she does have some large scale works. One is a Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. Absolutely incredible. Another is an opera she wrote that was never quite premiered. Tell us about this.
Evan Keely: So, La Sévillane is a work that she wrote in the 1880s, probably 1882, so that's when it was first performed. It was private performance at Le Vésinet, the family home, piano reduction. If there's an orchestration somewhere, I don't know where one can find it. But at that performance, she was at the keyboard. She must have had some friends performing. It is one act, Opera Comique, so spoken dialogue, like a German- zing spiel or I think of that genre of 19th Century French opera.
And there was some talk about maybe getting a professional performance of this opera, but it never materialized and it's not really clear why. It's a huge commitment, of course, to make in terms of expense and the press and so forth. And those are things where, I don't know, did she feel insecure about the piece? Did she feel like she wouldn't get the support she needed? Was it too much of a headache?
The only thing we know about the piece, the Overture was published in a two pianos version, and that's been recorded. I really want our listeners to enjoy this performance of this overture to La Sévillane. It's really a banger. I love this music. And it's yet another instance of this 19th Century French fascination with all things Spanish, Bizet's Carmen being the most obvious example.
She's able to draw upon that aesthetic. And again, it's easy for that to be this heck- need, " Oh, let's have a couple of rhythms here that sounds Spanish." But she actually creates this really delightful and exciting music through that aesthetic. And I really would love to hear our full performance of this opera, but I don't know that that's even possible at this point, which seems like a shame.
There's an interview she did many years later. She talks about some other opera that never materialized, and you almost get the sense that she forgets about this early opera. And I'm not sure what's going on with that.
John Banther: Either way, it is a shame, and unfortunately, there's some details that we might know, but Chaminade herself requested that her diary, her journals that be destroyed after she died and so thankfully, that was done according to her wishes. But that also means there's all kinds of details we don't have, and unfortunately, no recording of this opera.
1887, she is 30, now, and this is when things take a turn, unfortunately, with the death of her father. And that put them in a very unfortunate financial position. I believe they had to sell their home in Paris. So now, they're in Le Vésinet, I think full- time. And she has to turn to smaller compositions. Things like song, and those piano miniatures to make money. She can write those more quickly and she can get those published and people will play them as opposed to trying to put on a production of an opera that will require a hundred people. So, she has to make that turn to help the family survive financially.
Evan Keely: And these short piano works in this era, this is the 1880s, of course. Very marketable kind of a genre of sheet music, very popular. And she, I think, had a real gift for being able to speak to that. Maybe it sounds crass to say it this way, but I don't mean it that way. She was able to really connect with that market. She was able to create music that would be popular, that people would enjoy. And she doesn't sacrifice a really high- level aesthetic in doing.
John Banther: No, no. She has a difficult time in Paris for a lot of the... you can expect with either patriarchy, misogyny, and everything tied up deeply in the music world as well. She starts to get really popular outside of Paris in a place like London. Very popular, in part, I think because of the savvy nature with publishing that you just mentioned. They are loving her music there. She goes there, I think, it's 1892, and she makes yearly visits there, I think almost every year for a decade, and then very frequently until the 1920s. And they loved her there.
She was playing, especially the songs, they loved the songs. Queen Victoria admired her. She had Chaminade out to Windsor Castle. She received a jubilee medal from Queen Victoria. And then even at the Queen's funeral, a work of Chaminade was played an organ premiere.
Evan Keely: Exactly. So, you can see this phenomenon throughout her career where she is the proverbial prophet who can't be a prophet in her own country. Paris is her hometown. That's the one place where she seems to have the most difficulty really making connections with the press and with the concert scene and with other musicians Other places in France, she's quite popular, and you see these trips to London where she's very much appreciated.
John Banther: Yes. As we've said, especially for the songs. So, let's take a look at this, and I'll just be honest right away, Evan, I love her songs.
Evan Keely: Great stuff.
John Banther: Yes, I had to study a lot of German art song in school. A lot of Schubert, a lot of Schumann. I do like it. I don't actively listen to art song all the time, just full disclosure. But when I hear something and it catches me, I definitely listen to it for a while. And whatever she's doing with song is something I really enjoy. All of these, again, that it factor, I said at the beginning, where it just grabs you, yeah, that's present in her songs. One that I love is Ronde d'amour, I think is how I would say it, Evan, in French. I love this one, especially. I love it. For me, it just grabs me right away.
Evan Keely: She writes very well in this milieu of the French melody. You think about composers like Gabriel Fauré, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Emmanuel Chabrier, these composers of that era and the generation before her who were writing these works for voice and piano and so many wonderful works. It's a great body of literature and her contributions to this genre, in my opinion, are of just as good a quality as you'd find with a composer like Massenet or Fauré.
John Banther: Maybe, also, as I'm thinking about this, and as I've been listening more, I do tend to like more of French art song rather than German. Sometimes, Schubert is just a little too... we don't have to be depressed all the time. I think when we're listening to art song.
Evan Keely: It's a very different aesthetic.
John Banther: Yes.
Evan Keely: One can even stereotype the German lead is a very serious thing, and the French melody is so lovely, yeah. And that's a simplistic way of looking at it. But as I said, I think that Cécile Chaminade had a real understanding of the potentialities of that aesthetic and was able to create really fine works.
John Banther: One song that was or melody, I should say, that was one of our most popular, I think was L'anneau d'argent. This is from 1891, and we should also say this is all in French, and Chaminade speaks only French, and she's in London, but she can't even communicate with them directly. She speaks no English.
Evan Keely: Right.
John Banther: This is a beautiful song. We'll also have these in a playlist with other works of hers on the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org. But as we said, there's a lot of stuff that's missing that's not been recorded. And it wasn't just London. She went to places like Germany, Austria, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Romania. I mean, she went to a lot of places and everywhere she went, the people loved her. That's one of the most important things.
She was really loved by the people who would go to her concerts, but with critics, it wasn't always that way. They tried to derive her music as feminine, whatever that means. And it's only worthy of the salon music as part of a domestic life as a woman. All kinds of unfortunate things start to get pushed against her. Her appearance is written about a lot, especially I think in Germany. How she dares to be single, all kinds of things that she has to put up with.
Evan Keely: And this phrase, salon music, I think is worth exploring a little more deeply. The word salon in the 19th Century tended to imply a group of intellectuals and high achievers coming together to share their ideas. And as you get into the late 19th and into the 20th Centuries, it takes on this pejorative tone. This sense that it's this bourgeois recreation. It's these amateurs who don't really know quality, and it's especially associated in the minds of some with women's pursuits. And therefore, in this misogynistic milieu, there's this, there's derogation that's associated with " salon music." " Oh, that's not serious music. That's not high art. That's just a bunch of nice ladies gathering around to entertain one another with these pretty things."
So, when we hear critics calling her music salon music, I think that a lot of them are evoking that very same set of attitudes, and it's really a handicap that she struggles with professionally through her whole career. Trying to be seen as someone to be taken seriously, trying to be seen as someone who's creating art that is worthwhile. And there's this misogyny that's pervasive in these responses to her and we see, especially in the press. And it's contrasted, as you said, John, with the fact that she's traveling. She goes as far as Greece and Turkey in her tour, and she's greatly appreciated wherever she goes by audiences.
John Banther: Yes. And we're going to get into a little bit more on this right after this.
Okay, Evan, so digging into this a little bit more, let's look at a review for a piece we mentioned earlier that Konzertstück for piano and orchestra. It's a shorter work. It's not a full concerto. It's more fantastical. It's rhapsodic. It's less than 20 minutes. And here is a review from a critic who called it, " A work that is strong and virile, perhaps too virile And that is the reproach I would be tempted to address it. For me, I almost regretted not having found further those qualities of grace and gentleness that reside in the nature of women. The secrets of which she possesses to such a degree."
This is almost a mild one to one we'll read in a second, but using, of course, her gender against her. Darn, if you do, darn if you don't. You're never going to win kind of thing.
Evan Keely: Yes. How dare she write something that's not this dainty, feminine, passive kind of thing.
John Banther: It gets worse. A New York Evening Post critic wrote after a Carnegie Hall concert, " Her music has a certain feminine daintiness and grace, but it is amazingly superficial and wanting in variety. But on the whole, this concert confirmed that the conviction held by many, that while women may someday vote, they will never learn to compose anything worthwhile."
That is, I mean, it's almost insane to read that actually in print, and this was after a Carnegie Hall concert that she gave. Obviously, it's disgusting and it's not true. And this is what she would have to deal with. And I think it tells us, Evan, that they were afraid. They're afraid of her actually upsetting the patriarchy, the status quo.
Evan Keely: Yes.
John Banther: They were threatened. You don't write about the ant hill in your backyard. You're not afraid of that.
Evan Keely: It's an obnoxious comment. But as you said, John, it's sort of prophetic. This is 1908, so women may vote someday, but they'll never compose music that's worthwhile. Well, 1908, women got the vote in this country in 1920. So, I think this critic could see which way the wind was blowing. And as you said, John, there's an air of fear about what these critics are saying. They're trying to shut her up because there's a power that's coming from her and other women in this era that some people seem to find threatening.
John Banther: Yes. So, we can say some positive things about this piece, but maybe not too much because as I've been listening to this, I think actually made you an actual episode on this piece itself. But I don't see a single reason why this isn't programmed as much as any other similar type of piece even today, I mean.
Evan Keely: I'd love to see more ensembles performing this music. It's a wonderful work, but a very original kind of piece. The extent to which this is also composer's music, as I was talking about with the piano trio, is a question in my mind. One of the things I find interesting about the piece is its title. Why does she give it a German title, Konzertstück? Why doesn't she call it a morceau de concert, a piece de concert? Why not a French title? Is she trying to evoke a more Germanic aesthetic? Is she trying to... I'm not sure what she's trying to do with the title.
John Banther: I'm not sure either, whether it's a seriousness type of thing or a localization type of thing, but it is interesting. And it's something that I guess we just won't know. Another work she wrote for orchestra was a ballet symphony, and I think it's called Callirhoë. I don't know if that's exactly how it's pronounced. This went unpublished, but a suite was published, and again, this is another work like the Konzertstück that really should be played. I mean, I listen to it and I don't find any convincing reason why it wouldn't be played.
Evan Keely: Callirhoë, I think is how I'd pronounce it. I'm not sure if that's correct. It's evoking a story from Greek mythology, and that was of course, a popular set of themes in that era. And yeah, this is another piece that you really should get more attention. It was a huge success in its performance in Marseille when it was first performed and got performed quite a bit over the following 20 years. And then, where did it go? I would really like to see a revival of this music.
John Banther: Yes. And there is another work that included orchestra that is one that I think many listeners might recognize if they listen to WETA Classical, her Concertino for flute and orchestra, every flute player knows this as well, so much that it's just called for them the Chaminade. That's what a lot of musicians do for these pieces. And it would keep her name alive through the next century, really, in just this one aspect. And this is an extraordinary work. I love it, and we do play it on the WETA Classical, but one that especially kept her name alive.
Evan Keely: And it's, again, a wonderful example of a lot of the characteristics of her style. There's that singing quality. Those memorable melodies, which are beautiful without being shallow. Everybody hears this piece and it's just so appealing. And yet it's a very elegant and really sophisticated piece of music. Also, quite a difficult thing to compose. This was her one commission from the Paris Conservatory. They wanted a competition piece, so it's a very virtuosic flute part, and it's very easy, first of all, to write badly for an instrument that you don't play. I don't think she was a flute player, even on an amateur level.
John Banther: No, no.
Evan Keely: Clearly knows how to write for the instrument. And it's also quite easy to write something that's just rather shallow, very showy, very pyrotechnic, and yet, not really all that interesting. And she doesn't fall into that trap either. It is a very virtuosic flute solo in this piece, but to me, it never takes on this air of just a lot of fast notes for the sake of it. It's really very appealing.
The musical structure of the piece really works. It really carries you along. It has a wonderful beginning, middle end kind of progression to it. And the flute writing is virtuosic, but it's also just very appealing to listen to. It's really a great piece, and I'm really glad that we play it on WETA Classical as we do. Hopefully, we'll play more of her music in the years to come.
John Banther: Looking now at her life as she is in her 40s. She does get married, doesn't she? But it is on her terms, too, if I can pronounce it correctly, Louis- Mathieu Carbonel. This is in August 1901. He was 20 years older than her, apparently, an older friend of hers, and she dictated the terms of this marriage. They would live separately. They would not be living together. He could from time to time visit her and travel with her on a tour, and there would be no physical aspect to this relationship. So, really interesting there. Presumably, maybe for societal reasons doing this marriage.
Evan Keely: It's really a fascinating puzzle why she enters into this relationship. I get a strong sense that they care about one another very much, that they appreciate and support one another professionally and personally. But why get married? It's not really clear if she's trying to fit into a social expectation, why have such an unconventional marriage?
So, as you said, John, she's doing this on her own terms. Cécile Chaminade is in some ways a conservative person. She's definitely iconoclastic in many ways, and yet, in some other ways, she's a very private person. She doesn't abrasively sort of thrust herself into situations where she might be unwelcome, but she does take a lot of risks. So, this marriage is yet another puzzle in her fascinating personality. And to me, it raises more questions than answers.
John Banther: Her husband would become terminally ill in 1903. He died in 1907, and she did take care of him during those years, which did mean she was composing less. And after his death, in an interview with a Washington Post, here's what she said regarding marriage.
She said, " Marriage must adapt itself to one's career. With a man, it is all arranged and expected. If the woman is the artist, it upsets the standards, the conventions, the usual arrangements, and usually, it ruins the woman's art. I feel that it is difficult to reconcile the domestic life with the artistic. A woman should choose one or the other. She must have freedom, not restraint. She must receive aid, not selfish, jealous exactions and complaints. When a woman of talent marries a man who appreciates that side of her, such a marriage may be ideally happy for both."
So, finding mutual benefits, I think in that is what she may be describing.
Evan Keely: Yeah, it's a fascinating comment in an interview, and I don't know if she's describing what this is about a year after her husband had died. Is she describing their marriage or is she describing what she wished their marriage had been? I'm more inclined to think the former, but again, an unanswered question. Fascinating set of questions.
John Banther: Yes. People might be wondering, we've mentioned Carnegie Hall, we've mentioned the Post, the Washington Post. She gained a huge following in the United States well before she arrived. And a question as to, " Well, why did this happen?" Maybe similar to London, an obsession or love for her songs, also, because her music was being published. I think in these periodical, it's directed towards women and playing the piano and singing, especially in the United States at this time, that's a woman's domestic activity.
And with her compositions being in these periodicals that may have grabbed the attention of a lot of these women who are playing and are singing. And these Chaminade clubs started popping up all over. And there were a lot of music clubs, in general, and I think in the United States at that time, I think over 200 had her name in it. And they were writing a letter after letter to her manager or to whomever to get her to come to the United States.
Evan Keely: And it's weird, too, because of the sort of dual nature of how she was received. You see, as you said, John, these Chaminade clubs very popular, especially among American women. And yet even in those situations in the press in the United States, just as she had bad press in Europe and so forth, she's starting a tour in the United States, and some critic writes about her as she's on her way to the United States. And she said that this critic writes, " Only a favored few will be able to hear her play because she's refused to appear in public. Her performances will all be given at the musical recitals of multimillionaires. Chaminade's excuse is that physically, she's not strong enough to endure the fatigue of a concert season." Now, I don't know why this critic would have written this about her when in fact, that is not what she did.
John Banther: No.
Evan Keely: Was this just a brazen lie or was the person genuinely misinformed? But again, this is yet another example of the ways in which the organs, the instruments of societal expectations are aligned against her and how she's nevertheless able to overcome that.
John Banther: Yeah, it is strange because maybe there's no internet and it's not around forever to write something like that because yes, maybe the critic is right. Musicians famously, who refuse to play in public and are too weak to perform, famously, they start and end their North America tours with Carnegie Hall appearances. And then they go to the most prestigious stages in the country, like Orchestra Hall in Chicago and Symphony Hall in Boston.
And actually, I did not know she had played in Boston, because when I read that, it grabbed me because I'm actually holding it right now. I have a piece of the original flooring from Boston Symphony Hall from 1900. They replaced it in 2006, I think. And I have a piece of the original flooring. And I'm hoping may, this might be a piece that she actually stepped on herself.
Evan Keely: Entirely possible.
John Banther: Yes.
Evan Keely: Even in that era, this is the 1910, 1920s, early 20th Century, Boston Symphony Hall, very prestigious venue. Carnegie Hall, as you mentioned, John, Orchestra Hall in Chicago. She's really hitting the major American musical venues, as well as giving private performances throughout the United States and the Chaminade clubs cropping up everywhere are a testimony to how well she was appreciated.
John Banther: And I can say, Evan, I think we appreciated her in a very American way. There is this, you call this an anagram, the CHAMINADE, C - concentrated and concerted effort, H - harmony of spirit, and A - artistic ideals. I don't know, I feel like that's a very American way to appreciate her.
Evan Keely: Yes, yes. She had a real fan base in this country.
John Banther: And what she was playing was basically what we started with this in this episode, those early recitals where she's playing all her music. That's what she's doing on these tours and in the US. She's playing her solo works. She's playing the melody, the art song that she was composing. She was there for, I guess, a few months. She started and ended it in Carnegie Hall. And almost all of the venues were sold out. The only one that had some empty seats was her repeat visit and concert in Philadelphia. So clearly, a huge success.
Evan Keely: Yes, and she got to go all over the country, as far West as Minneapolis and Milwaukee and Chicago, Cincinnati, St. Louis. She got to go to Washington. She got to meet President Roosevelt and the First Lady. It's easy to throw her on the clichés and call this a star- studded event, but she certainly was very much appreciated in the United States.
John Banther: Now, into her 50s, I believe in 1912, her mother dies. That's a hard moment, of course, for her in her life. World War I starts two years later. In between in 1913, she became the first woman composer to receive the Chevalier title for that Legion of Honor in France. And about this time, Evan, it seems like with the end of World War I, as she's approaching her 60s now, she writes very little, if at all, for the rest of her life. She retires and she's slowly, herself, even mentioning feeling like she's falling into obscurity, being gone and forgotten.
Evan Keely: Yeah. During the First World War, she dedicated her time to caring for soldiers. In a convalescent home. She retires to the French Riviera. She's really not composing or performing or touring at this point. She's got more and more health problems. She's got a real difficult situation with her foot. And as you said, John, she's really feeling like people are starting to forget her.
John Banther: Yes. But in 1942, she received a very nice letter from her American friend, Irving (inaudible) , who was a musician and a critic, and is someone who was also very supportive of George Walker as we learned in an episode. She replied, writing, " I just received your exquisite letter, which was, for me, a great joy and comfort. I see that you haven't been forgetting your musical friends, and they're deeply grateful not to be forgotten. To live in the heart and memory of those who understand you. That is the supreme consolation for an artist. Thanks to all who remember."
And then two years later in 1944, she would die. But what a way to, just reading the words that she writes really confirms the kind of artist that she was to live in the heart and memory of those who understand you. That is the consolation as an artist, and that's just really just a fantastic to read from her.
Evan Keely: And I think she's now being re- vivified in the hearts and minds of those who understand her. And it's gratifying to see more and more attention being given to her music, more and more performances. I hope this episode, as I said, will be part of that because she really wrote music that is worth remembering.
John Banther: Yes. And we'll have some more information and everything on the show notes page, but maybe we can give Chaminade herself the last word. Here she is in an actual recording from 1901, playing the Courante from her three ancient dances, Opus 95.
Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown, your guide to classical music. For more information on this episode, visit the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org. You can send me comments and episode ideas to classicalbreakdown@ weta. org. And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review in your podcast app. I'm John Banther. Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.