Cécile: A One-Woman Show (SAT)
Cécile Chaminade is the most famous French female composer you’ve never heard of. A hugely popular composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she was discovered by Bizet when she was just 12; “you cannot keep her genius down”, Bizet told her father. Chaminade’s piano music and pieces sold in the thousands. She played to packed houses all over Europe and America. Queen Victoria invited her to Windsor Castle several times and, during Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidency, she played at the White House as a stop on her triumphant tour of the United States. Chaminade was the first female composer to make a gramophone recording (1901) and the first French female composer to be awarded the Légion d'Honneur. Then, after the First World War, she disappeared from public view, just as her music disappeared from the classical repertoire.
In Cécile, a show written by Peter Gumbel, Karin Lechner recounts Chaminade’s moving life story, and, in her virtuoso style, plays the composer’s greatest hits. Cécile Chaminade was very prolific, composing more than 400 pieces in all, half of them for piano. She became a role model in her lifetime; on her 1908 tour of the United States, she visited one of the more than 200 “Chaminade Clubs” that had sprung up, where women would meet to make music together. Yet, despite her popularity with the public, she struggled to gain the respect of the (mostly male) critics, who often disparaged her work as “trivial”.
At a time when other long-overlooked 19th-century female composers such as Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn are enjoying a revival, the story of Cécile Chaminade will resonate not just with classical music lovers but also with a younger generation eager to right history by restoring an artist to her earned place in the cultural canon.