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  • Mécènes et Musiciens: Du salon au concert à Paris sous la IIIe République
  • Michael Strasser
Mécènes et Musiciens: Du salon au concert à Paris sous la IIIe République. By Myriam Chimènes. Paris: Fayard, 2004. [776 p. ISBN 2-213-61696-5. €30.] Illustrations, bibliography, index.

Wealthy patrons have always played an important role in Western musical life, but while the contributions of a Louis XIV or a Count Esterházy might seem readily apparent, the story of musical patronage in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has seemed largely peripheral to a historical narrative that has concentrated on composers' increasing individuality and independence. Except for a few obvious exceptions (Wagner and King Ludwig of Bavaria, for example) there has been little scholarly interest in the relationships between musicians and wealthy individuals in the years after 1800.

Scholars have recently begun to look more closely at the importance of wealthy patrons to the development of music and musical life during the past two centuries. A growing number of studies have been devoted to important individuals (e.g., Sylvia Kahan, Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princess de Polignac [Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003]) or to the role of patrons in general (e.g., Ralph P. Locke and Cyrilla Barr, ed. Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activities in America Since 1860 [Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997]). The latest contribution to this expanding field of inquiry comes from Myriam Chimènes, who has written an important documentary study of musical patronage in Paris during the Third Republic.

Chimènes' book is especially welcome, for the salon culture of nineteenth-century Paris provided for an unusual (if not unique) amount of interaction between musicians and their admirers and supporters. Salons provided a venue for musicians to interact with each other as well as with painters, writers, and other intellectuals. Wealthy music lovers staged formal concerts and even opera productions in their homes, organized concert series in public venues, and provided support for struggling young composers. Some even participated in the performance of new works, both in private and (occasionally) in public settings.

Chimènes has wisely decided to divide her immense study of this multi-faceted culture into two parts, the first dealing with "private spaces" (i.e., salons and other musical activities in private homes) and the second with "public spaces" (i.e., the activities of wealthy patrons in the realm of public music making).

After a brief introduction to the world of amateur music lovers and an overview of the role they played in Parisian musical life, the author moves in the first part to an in-depth examination of the personalities and activities of several of the most important musical patrons on the Parisian scene, including such figures as Marguerite de Saint-Marceaux, Winnaretta Singer, the [End Page 963] comtesse Greffulhe, and Misia. Following these extended portraits one finds several chapters devoted to different types of salons, beginning with those hosted by musical amateurs, who often organized salons and concerts so that they could indulge their desire to perform in either solo or ensemble settings. There were formal and informal concerts presented by music lovers who simply wanted to listen to music in their homes, and salons hosted by musicians (or their families), artists, and writers: all are cataloged in the same methodical fashion by Chimènes. By the last decades of the nineteenth century, the presence of musicians became almost a requirement at a Parisian salon, and there is even a chapter devoted to the use (or, rather, misuse) of musicians as "adornments" at fashionable gatherings.

In her desire to be as comprehensive as possible, Chimènes sometimes risks overwhelming the reader in these chapters with an endless procession of names, dates, and titles. She does an admirable job of preventing her prose from disintegrating into a formulaic, encyclopedic style but it is inevitable that one begins to feel a certain sameness in the description of so many salons, many of which are distinguished only by the presence of different individuals. Many readers might well be tempted to read the introduction to each chapter in...


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