CÉCILE CHAMINADE (1857 - 1944)
Cecile Chaminade was essentially a composer who had a career as a pianist playing her own works with great public success. By the age of eight she was writing church music and her private teachers were Félix Le Couppey for piano, Martin Marsick for violin, and Benjamin Godard for composition. Chaminade’s family was not musical and she had private teachers because her father did not want her to go to the Paris Conservatoire. She gave her first concert at the age of eighteen and thenceforth had an extremely successful career as a performer of her own works rather in the manner of Gottschalk, a half century before. Her works are of a similar quality, in that they are beautifully crafted, aiming to please and charm their audience. Chaminade was popular in France and England; after her first visit to London she returned nearly every June during the 1890s to give an annual concert, performing her new songs and piano works, engaging friends such as Blanche Marchesi and Pol Plançon to sing them. She made her American debut in 1908 playing her own Concertstück for Piano and Orchestra Op. 40 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. In addition to the hundreds of piano pieces she produced, she also wrote many songs, several orchestral suites, two piano trios and a ‘Symphonie lyrique’ for chorus and orchestra entitled Les Amazones. The critics were not as enthusiastic as the audiences, and after 1899 she only visited London occasionally. At one of her last visits in 1922 she filled the large Central Hall in Westminster and played nine piano solos while the rest of the afternoon concert was devoted to her songs, and compositions by other composers. In 1901 she married a Marseilles music publisher, though he died six years later and she never remarried. In 1913 Chaminade was the first woman composer to be made a member of the Légion d’honneur.
Chaminade was one of the first pianists to record for the gramophone in 1901, the fledgling Gramophone and Typewriter Company no doubt thinking her records would be an instant commercial success. Seven sides were issued, all of her own works, and today these are very rare as few people at the time had a gramophone on which to play them. All have been reissued on compact disc and the sound is remarkably clear for its age. Editions of Autrefois and Automne graced many an Edwardian piano and were in the repertoire of such pianists as Leopold Godowsky, Mark Hambourg and Shura Cherkassky. It is unlikely however that amateur performers ever played Chaminade’s works with the style that their composer did. Her fluid technique and nonchalant style of chic and charm conjure up a vision of fin de siècle Paris. Her discs exude character and an impressively brilliant technique.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).