Cécile Chaminade

French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade wrote approximately four hundred works, including 125 songs. Almost all of her works were published in her lifetime—rare for a woman of her day. She toured extensively, especially in England and the United States, performing her pieces for enthusiastic audiences. Her music was so popular in the U.S. that several Chaminade clubs sprang up in the early years of the twentieth century; many of them are still in existence.

Despite her international renown, Chaminade encountered many obstacles. Because she didn’t have access to the French musical establishment, her music was generally overlooked in her native country. And though she wowed audiences, she failed to please critics, who faulted her for writing music that was too “feminine.” (One reviewer, commenting on a Carnegie Hall recital that Chaminade did in 1908, wrote that her music “has a certain feminine daintiness and grace, but it is amazingly superficial. … While women may someday vote, they will never learn to compose anything worthwhile.”) Health problems prevented Chaminade from touring after about 1920, and her music gradually faded into obscurity. She died in Monte Carlo in 1944, largely forgotten.

Thanks to the efforts of many scholars and performers, Chaminade’s music is now being celebrated once again. But more work is needed to bring her remarkable works to a wider audience.

Additional Resources

Did you know?

Cécile Chaminade received the Légion d’Honneur in 1913; she was the first women to be awarded the honor.

Video Recordings

Mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms and pianist Myra Huang perform Chaminade's "Ma première lettre" (1893). The recording was made as part of the Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago’s 2020 Collaborative Works Festival (caichicago.org).
Soprano Laura Strickling and pianist Joy Schreier perform Chaminade's "La lune paresseuse" (1905).

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