Composer of the month: Cecile Chaminade

Posted by
Erin Nichols
Date
 December 11, 2018
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I remember the first time I heard Chaminade’s Flute Concertino in D major, Op. 107–I was out of school and attending a recital, and my first thought was, “How and why have I never heard this before??” I loved everything about it, and ever since then I have taken to working on it on my own. It turns out that it is a great piece to test instruments on! This “composer of the month” feature will become a regular part of the IFS blog, so please enjoy learning a bit more about Cecile Chaminade.

Chaminade was born in Paris and started studying violin and piano early on; she also studied composition with Benjamin Godard, though this was not “formal” training, since her father disapproved of his daughter’s musical endeavors. In her eighth year she played some of her music to Georges Bizet, who was much impressed with her talents. She gave her first concert when she was eighteen, and from that time on her work as a composer gained steadily in favor. In 1908 she visited the United States after touring in France and England, and her compositions were tremendous favorites with the American public. Ambroise Thomas once said of Chaminade: “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman.” In 1913, she was awarded the Légion d’Honneur, a first for a female composer. Many of Chaminade’s piano compositions received good reviews from critics, but some of her other endeavors and more serious works were less favorably evaluated, perhaps on account of gender prejudices. Most of her compositions were published during her lifetime and were financially successful; unfortunately, she has since fallen into relative obscurity, save for her Concertino, Op. 107.

The Concertino has become quite the mainstay in current flute repertoire; the piece’s melodicism, exuberance and conventional tonality make it a sure crowd-pleaser, and it has become such a staple in the repertory that we flutists call it simply “the Chaminade.” Robert Hillinck write, “Its unassuming main theme draws listeners immediately to an idyllic pastoral sound world whose graceful lyricism flirts with the sentimental. Decorative passages pepper the score, stretching the player’s technical ability with fast-paced scales and arpeggios.” Most of her pieces follow the character of the French Romantic period but did not tend to evolve much, a theory of why her music may have fallen out of favor in subsequent years.

Here is a wonderful recording of esteemed flautist Jasmine Choi, performing the Concertino in D Major, Op. 107:

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