Women and Music Production

One can hardly ignore the influence that the countess Madame Merlin’s salon has had on social music in Paris. It is she who first discovered that one could combine, without any difficulty, the advantages of a woman of the world with the talent of a great singer; for no one would deny that if Madame Merlin had been born into the artist class, she would have attained the highest successes that we have ever seen in concerts or on the stage.

– Sophie Gay, Salons célèbres (1864, 160–61).

Mademoiselle Contat’s salon was another illustration of the change that society had undergone. The beautiful actress, with her stream of song, drew all the world to her salon, where, besides herself, people heard such song-birds as Malibran and Sontag, and the music of Rossini and Donizetti before it was given to the world outside.

– Kathleen O’Meara, Madame Mohl: Her Salon and her Friends (1886, 15).

La sincere: balladeEngraving attributed to Mme. LamouretteDeux mélodies composéesNouveautés musicales publiées par Mme. CendrierThe seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are often considered the heyday of the salonnières: powerful hostesses, from Catherine de Rambouillet (1588–1665) to Suzanne Necker (1737–1794), shaped political discourse of the era. Although the Napoleonic Code officially restricted women’s civic rights in 1804, in practice women still exerted political and social influence through their salons. New singers and compositions had their débuts in the salons, and the continued importance of salonnières is clearly evident by the many songs dedicated to them. Reflecting on the centrality of music to Madame Orfila’s fashionable salon, a critic from Le Ménestrel wrote: “With Mme Orfila, music is the flower of the four seasons; there is always singing there” (1859). Salonnières also displayed their own musical talents, exemplifying what Mary Ann Smart characterizes as the “commingling of social status and musical talent that typified the Paris of the 1830s” (2010, 49). Comtesse Merlin (1789–1852) was formerly a professional singer, Princess Cristina Belgiojoso (1808–1871) sang and played piano, and Madame Orfila occasionally sang, either with or accompanied by her husband.

Deux mélodies composées.Publisher Celeste Cendrier's annotations.Music-making was also enabled by numerous less visible but equally important women who were responsible for the production and dissemination of music: publishers, engravers, and sellers. This is apparent by the female publishers whose names appear in this collection: Mme Espinasse, Mlle Lesourd, Veuve Paté, Veuve Benoit, Veuve Leduc, and Veuve Hayard. A widow could inherit her husband’s publishing business, and records suggest that some even obtained a permit to begin their own businesses. Céleste Cendrier (1812–ca.1859) was likely one such example. In addition to publishing a variety of vocal and piano works, as can be seen above with the advertisement for her “Nouveautés musicales,” she even ran a magasin de musique. Female engravers also performed forgotten tasks, with their names often absent or at best relegated to the bottom of the page. For instance, Mme Lamourette engraved the music onto the metal plate used to print Duchambge’s La sincère.

Further Reading

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