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Cécile Chaminade: The woman artist the world forgot

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Cecile Chaminade

Cécile Chaminade: The woman artist the world forgot

Cécile Chaminade had once been the most popular of her time. But because she was a woman, she had been forgotten by most of the world, focusing on men composers and musicians.

Fortunately, love for Cécile’s work has been getting a resurgence with her music being played once more.

Cécile Chaminade: Born to music

Born in 1857 in Paris to a wealthy family of six children, Chaminade’s parents were both music lovers with her father playing the violin and her mother the piano.

Thanks to their wealth, the family alternated living in several beautiful mansions in France: from Paris to Le Vesinet and Le Perigord.

It was her mother who gave Cécile– the youngest in the family her first piano lesson. As a result, Cécile composed her first piano score by seven years old.

Georges Bizet, a close friend of the family, recognized Cécile’s talent and urged her parents to place her in the Paris Conservatoire.

However, her father didn’t want to because he thought a woman couldn’t have a musical career. Still, Cécile was given several private tutors, like the pianist Felix Couppey and the violinist Martin Marsick.

Cécile gave her first public performance in 1875 and made her debut at Salle Pleyel two years later. She played her own scores during her recitals, with critics citing her “beautiful technique and virtuosity.”

Cécile Chaminade: Successes and challenges

As Cécile released more of her music, she started getting recognized for it.

One of her biggest fans was Queen Victoria. Cécile was invited by the queen to Windsor Castle during her concert tour in Great Britain in 1892. In 1897, Cécile received the “Jubilee” Medal from the queen.

When she toured in the US, she was invited by Edith and Theodore Roosevelt to the White House. Back in France, she was given the “Legion d’Honneur” by the French government, the first female composer to be cited.

Likewise, she founded the “Chaminade Clubs” with people being invited to listen to her music. In the US, her fans created several clubs even as she performed successfully at the Carnegie Hall.

Cécile Chaminade: Her personal life

Throughout her life, Cécile was committed to her music. As she told the New York Herald: “I am wedded to my music”.

She did get married Louis-Mathieu Carbonel, a music publisher, but their relationship was purely platonic. Carbonel later became sick and Cécile took care of him until he died in 1907.

When World War I happened, she returned to her villa in Tamaris and helped wounded soldiers to recover.

Unfortunately, she had problems with her health in 1912. When her mother died, she stopped composing. She sold her house in Le Vesinet and left Paris to live alternately in a house near Toulon and her niece’s house in Monaco.

She lost her left foot and because she didn’t want to use a wheelchair, she stayed in bed. World War II made things worse for her as her composer lost most of her royalties thanks to the Nazis.

She once said: “Not to be forgotten, to live in the heart and memory of those who understand you– that is the supreme consolation for an Artist.”

Alone and forgotten, she died in Monaco on April 13, 1944.


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