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Les Parisiennes

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Spanning the period from the French Revolution to the beginning of the First World War, Ambache reveals the breadth and diversity of women’s composing, placing their lives and works within a broad sweep of French political and social history.

So, for example, the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen de 1789 recognised men (but not women); however that same year, Isabelle de Charrière composed her Airs et Romances, and aristocrat Hélène de Montgeroult survived the Reign of Terror by improvising variations on La Marseillaise. Towards the end of the 19th century, as France celebrated its recovery after the Franco-Prussian war, Augusta Holmès was commissioned to write Ode Triomphale for the Revolution’s centennial. Her opera La Montagne Noire, staged in 1895 would, nonetheless, be one of few operas by a woman to be produced at the Paris Opéra that century.

Ambache reveals a wide range of little-known composers such as Louise Bertin, the only composer Victor Hugo collaborated with - on the opera La Esmeralda, and Julie Candeille (the composer of Catherine or la belle fermière, the longest running opera by a woman), whilst also placing composers who we are now beginning to appreciate more fully in their musical and historical context: women such as Louise Farrenc, Pauline Viardot, Cécile Chaminade and Lili Boulanger.

Far more than simply a lady at the piano or even a successful salon hostess, Ambache argues that some thirty French women contributed substantially to French musical life in the 19th century.

Published: Apr 1, 2024