Chaminade, Cecile Louise Stephanie


A notable woman composer and piano virtuoso, of whom Ambroise Thomas, the composer of Mignon, is said to have remarked: "This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who happens to be a woman." Chaminade was born in Paris and came of a musical family, her father having been an excellent violin-player and her mother a remarkable singer and pianist. She lived in a music.-.l atmosphere and had many musicians of prominence for friends. The piano was her favorite companion from earliest childhood and she devoted herself to its study. She says her mother was her only teacher until she was fifteen. At eight she was composing so well as to attract the attention of Bizet, who advised her parents to give her a complete musical education. After her fifteenth year she pursued her studies in fugue and counterpoint under Savard, who had taught Massenet and Saint-Saens, and she also studied with Le Couppey, Marsick and Benjamin Godard, and made such rapid progress that she was soon in the front rank of composers. She gave her first concert when she was eighteen, and that was really the beginning of her career. In her early twenties she wrote The Amazons, a dramatic symphony for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, and it was produced at Marseilles in 1888. About the same time her other compositions began to attract attention and were heard in Paris at concerts. Many of these were orchestral. She also wrote La Sevillane, a one-act ballet; Callirhoe, a symphonic poem; concertos for the piano and orchestra; many orchestral works and short piano pieces. Although a composer of rare ability for the piano, it is her songs that have made Chaminade famous. She has published over sixty and all are of the greatest beauty. Of her piano pieces the best known are etudes; sonatas; waltzes and five airs de ballet, among them the well-known Scarf Dance. For the orchestra her more ambitious compositions are Pardon Breton; Noel des Marins; Angelus and Angelique. As a pianist she has been heard in many cities, notably London, Berlin, Leipsic and Paris, her native city. Chaminade has received many honors and decorations from her own country and from others. In 1888 she received the purple ribbon from the French Academy and, in 1892, was made an officer of public instructions. She received the laurel wreath from the students of the Conservatory of Athens, after giving a concert there, and was decorated by the Sultan of Turkey with the order of Chefakat, one of the highest honors it is in his power to bestow and only given to people of the highest genius. Moszkowski said, in his opinion, her orchestration was magnificent, and the Colonne and Lamoureux orchestras have played her ballet music at their concerts. Her ballet Callirhoe was given, in 1902, in Bordeaux, with great success, and many of her songs have been sung by the famous singers of the operatic stage, among them Nordica and Plancon. Among the most popular of her many songs are the following: Ritournelle; a Madrigal; Rosamunde; The Silver Ring; and Berceuse. Most of her well-known works have been written at her father's estate Perigorre, in the Midi, but she resides at present at Le Visenet, near Paris, a beautiful estate, where Bizet, who was a neighbor in her childhood, often used to visit.