Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cecile Chaminade - Should History Pay Her Another Visit?

Among the relatively few eminent women composers of the 19th century, Cecile Chaminade was among that small coterie.
For those of you who are not very familiar with this composer, just a few words:
Chaminade was an accomplished pianist, with her debut in her late 'teens - she became known in France as a fine teacher, with a distinguished career in teaching lasting over a half century - she may have written close to 500 compositions overall, with a great number of them published during her life span - she was admired and championed by such musicians as Isidor Philipp, one of the last of the super-teachers straddling the 19th and 20th centuries. Phillip's name endures as a pedagogical entity influencing many great minds involved with the evolution of piano performance, to this very day.
I recently thumbed through the opus 76 of Chaminade, and was impressed with the fourth and sixth pieces in that group.
It's not that she is in a league with a Debussy or a Ravel. She is not what would be termed as a great composer; however, the gift that Chaminade possessed; namely, a highly attractive harmonic vocabulary, coupled with a pristine sense of how to write for the piano reminds us of the reason for the fame she accrued during her time and through the first half of the 20th century.
Rather sadly, her popularity waned after about 1950-55, and her entity is in the shadows to this day, with an intermittent revival of some of her work here and there.
Again; we do not cast her into the top echelon of composers; however, her music was played throughout Europe and America by countless pianists for the better part of a century.
Take a look at her opus 76 - it's really rather delicious music!

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