Cécile Chaminade was a prolific composer, publishing more than 400 pieces in her lifetime, as well as being a successful international touring solo pianist.  
 
Perhaps her most well known piece is her “Flute Concertino in D Major” Op. 107, which is listed in the Model Music Curriculum, however her vast repertoire is well worth exploring. She composed piano pieces (solo and duo), Piano Trios, songs, a ballet, an opera and concerto style works. 
 
In her many recital tours, Chaminade would feature programmes entirely made up of her own music. 
 
On the 80th anniversary of her death, we explore her life and most famous piece. Our activity this month explores composition within limitations. 
 
 
Image: Cécile Chaminade 
Originally from en:Wikipedia en:Image:Cecile chaminade.jpg 
Henrici, L. O. Representative Women. Kansas City, Mo.: The Crafters Publishers. 1913 
Original source: What We Hear in Music, Anne S. Faulkner, Victor Talking Machine Co., 1913. 
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Cécile Chaminade 

Cécile Chaminade was born on 8th August 1857 in Paris. Her parents were musicians and so she explored the piano from an early age and was initially taught by her mother. Chaminade also experimented with composition when she was young, writing pieces for her pets and her dolls. 
 
Her talents were identified at an early age, but sources vary as to exactly when (aged 8 or 10) and by whom (Félix Le Couppey or Georges Bizet). It was recommended that she attend a music school; however, her father felt that it was not appropriate for her to attend the Conservatoire. Despite this, Chaminade did study with tutors from the Conservatoire: piano with Félix Le Couppey, counterpoint and harmony with M.G.A. Savard, and composition with Benjamin Godard. 
 
Chaminade gave her first public recital at the age of 18, and in 1878, she gave a salon performance under the auspices of her professor, Le Couppey, programming only her own compositions. This performance was key to Chaminade’s career as it not only marked the beginning of her rise as a composer, it also became the model for future concerts in which she only performed her own works. Across her career she wrote nearly 200 piano miniatures. 
Chaminade made her London debut in 1892 and her American debut in 1908, when she performed the solo part of her Concertstück with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Her popularity grew and she performed international recital tours which visited Vienna, Belgium and Britain: performing in London and Bath. Chaminade’s work was a favourite of Queen Victoria and her “Prélude for organ”, Op.78 was performed at the Queen’s funeral in 1901. 
In November 1901, in London, Chaminade made gramophone recordings of seven of her compositions for the Gramophone and Typewriter Company. These are now very much sought after by collectors. She went on to record many piano rolls (used in player pianos). 
 
Chaminade also toured the United States in 1908, visiting twelve cities, with performances in Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, the Academy of Music and a performance of the “Concertstück” with the nascent Philadelphia Orchestra. Her performances at venues throughout the Midwest inspired hundreds of women to found eponymous musical societies: “Chaminade Clubs”, devoted to performing and enjoying her compositions. 
 
Most of Chaminade’s compositions were published in her lifetime and were financially successful. Her piano works, in particular, were critically well received. Her larger works were less well critiqued, perhaps due to the gender prejudices of the time (see our blog on Ethel Smyth). Ambroise Thomas, a celebrated French composer and writer, commented of Chaminade: “This is not a woman who composes, but a composer who is a woman." 
 
Unfortunately in the later part of Chaminade’s life, her music fell out of favour. Critics highlighted her lack of Conservatoire education and at the turn of the century, her works, which had once been praised for being “feminine” were criticised as being superficial. Other works, such as her “Concertstück”, which were in an atypical style for her, were derided for being too masculine. Chaminade was marginalised by the Parisian music world. She said of her musical style: “I am essentially of the romantic school, as all my work shows.” As the music of Paris explored more avant garde styles, Romanticism was frowned upon. 
 
However, Chaminade received many honours both in France and abroad. In 1888 and 1892, she was honoured by the Académie Française, followed by recognition by Queen Victoria through the Jubilee Medal. She also received the Laurel Wreath from the Athens Conservatory and the Order of the Chefakat by Sulton Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire. In 1913, she was the first female composer to be elected a Chevalier of Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur. 
 
In the 1920s and 1930s her health deteriorated and she was unable to continue touring. She moved to Monaco where she died on 13th April 1944 in solitude and in relative obscurity. 

Compositions 

Chaminade is now, perhaps best known for her “Flute Concertino in D Major” Op. 107. However, she wrote in a variety of forms: character pieces for piano, an opera comique, a themed symphony, an orchestral suite, mélodies for voice and piano, pieces for soloist and orchestra, a piano sonata and a ballet. 
During her lifetime, she was best known for her piano works, although not everyone enjoyed her pieces, and again we see the misogyny within the musical establishment of the early 1900s. A review in the New York Evening Post of Chaminade’s 1908 Carnegie Hall performances stated that her music: 
 
“has a certain feminine daintiness and grace, but it is amazingly superficial and wanting in variety. . . . But on the whole this concert confirmed the conviction held by many that while women may some day vote, they will never learn to compose anything worth while. All of them seem superficial when they write music. . . .” 

“Flute Concertino in D Major” Op. 107 

Chaminade wrote the “Flute Concertino in D Major” Op. 107 in 1902 for flute and piano, later arranging it for flute and orchestra. It is believed it was commissioned by the Paris Conservatoire as an exam piece for students. The work is dedicated to Paul Taffanel, who taught at the Conservatoire. 
 
Elizabeth Wolfrey states in her analysis of the work: “Taken at face-value, it can be easy to dismiss the Concertino as just a short and sweet little rondo that accomplishes the musical and technical goals of the commission. But just below the surface, Chaminade’s unusual treatment of conventional form, in combination with a tonal problem makes the work much more complex and dramatically satisfying.” 
 
A traditional Rondo form in music contains a main theme (A), followed by a second theme (B), then the first theme (A) is repeated before a third theme (C) is introduced. The first theme (A) is then repeated. There are variations to this format, for example instead of ABACA, composers use ABACABA or ABACAB. Wolfrey suggests that the Concertino loosely follows the Rondo structure, with a clear theme A which alternates with contrasting sections, but the contrasting sections are not what the listener expects, with harmonic instability and a loose-knit structure, among other variations to the form. 
 
Robert Hillinick, a flautist, comments: 
 
“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.” 

Instrumentation 

The orchestrated version is written for: 
Solo flute 
1 flute (beside the solo instrument) 
1 piccolo 
2 oboes 
2 clarinets 
2 bassoons 
4 horns 
3 trombones 
tuba 
timpani 
harp 
1st violins 
2nd violins 
violas 
cellos 
double basses 
 
Music critic Lawrence Gilman commented that:  
 
"A remarkable feature of the work is its use of the orchestra's heaviest artillery in the accompaniment, for which three trombones and tubas are requisitioned (the trumpets take a holiday)." 

Activity 

Chaminade’s music is notable for its use of melody. Many of her piano pieces are “songs without words” highlighting their lyricism. The main melody of the “Concertino” mainly moves by small steps, typically a tone (eg D to E) or a third (eg A to F#). 
 
This month’s activity is to write a melody that largely moves up or down in small steps. 
 
Some famous melodies that use this technique are: 

Further Reading 

Hillinck, Robert - Listen Music Culture - The Rise and Fall of Cécile Chaminade 
Wolfrey, Elizabeth A - Theoretical and Topical Analysis of Cécile Chaminade's Concertino op. 107 for Flute and Piano https://shareok.org/handle/11244/337642 
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