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.
- Citron, Marcia J. Cécile Chaminade: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1988.
- Citron, Marcia J. Gender and the Musical Canon. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993. [Citron’s book includes a detailed analysis of Chaminade’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, op. 21.]
- Aichele, Michelle Mai. “Cécile Chaminade as a Symbol for American Women, 1890–1920.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, 2019.
- Higgins, Charlotte. “‘I am music’s nun’: Cécile Chaminade became one of the world’s best-loved composer—a star in Europe and the US and a favourite of Queen Victoria. But at what cost? Charlotte Higgins reports.” The Guardian, January 25, 2002.
- Mots d’Amour—Chaminade: Mélodies. Anne Sophie von Otter, mezzo-soprano, and Bengt Forsberg, piano. Deutsche Grammophone 471 331-2, 2001, compact disc.