Our afternoon concert at Nailsworth on 11th March will feature three works for oboe and strings by the French composer Marie Félicie Clémence de Reiset, Vicomtesse de Grandval. The Romance and Gavotte for Oboe, Cello and Strings were both published in 1884. The elegiac and elegant Romance has a dramatic middle section, and Grandval’s harmony gives it a tinge of sensuous melancholy. The Gavotte is lighter, with a more flowing central section. Between the two, we will play her warmly playful Scherzo for Oboe and Strings.
Marie de Reiset was born in 1828, the youngest of four daughters of a well-to-do family in St Rémy-des-Monts, about 200km west of Paris. Her father was a talented pianist and her mother was a novelist. Marie started her musical studies with composer Friedrich Flotow, a family friend, at the age of six, and later studied in Paris with Frédéric Chopin and Camille Saint-Saëns. Her first compositions date from her early teens, and in her twenties she published a number of well-received chamber works, and her first symphony, the premiere of which was conducted by Hector Berlioz in 1851. Her first opera Le sou de Lise [Lise’s Penny] was premiered in 1859, when Marie was 31, and her last opera (of nine) was premiered in 1892, when she was 64. She was still publishing songs ten years later, and kept composing right up to her death in 1907, six days before her 79th birthday. As well as the nine known dramatic works and another left unfinished, her compositions include three symphonies, two concertos, a concert overture, music for a ballet, several choral works, more than ten chamber works (including several featuring the oboe), several sacred works including two masses and a Stabat Mater, a large number of songs (both individual songs and at least five collections), and a dozen or so piano pieces.
In 1851, Marie married Charles Grégoire Amedée Amable Enlard, Vicomte de Grandval, and they went on to have two daughters, Isabelle and Thérèse. Despite having more than enough names of her own, especially after her marriage, Marie published many of her works under various pseudonyms, including Caroline Blangy, Clémence Valgrand, Maria Felicita de Reiset and Maria Reiset de Tesier.
Although little-known today, Marie (sometimes known as Clémence) de Grandval was a respected composer during her lifetime. She was friends with leading composers and musicians, and dedicated works to many of them, including Flotow, Saint-Saëns, Charles Gounod and Georges Bizet. There are many favourable reviews of her works, with François-Joseph Fétis commenting on the ‘incontestable vigour … remarkable abilities and a rare creativeness’ with which she tackled a broad range of musical genres. During the 1870s and 1880s, Grandval was an important figure in the Société Nationale de Musique, donating considerable sums to the organisation and becoming its most played composer. In 1880 she won the inaugural Concours Rossini composition prize for her oratorio La fille de Jaïre [The daughter of Jairus], and ten years later the Paris Conservatoire awarded her the Cartier Prize for her chamber music. She continued publicly to perform her compositions as singer and pianist up until the early 1890s, by which time she was in her sixties.
Marie de Grandval was from a wealthy family, enabling her to pursue composition without needing to worry about financial success, and facilitating introductions to many of the leading figures of the day, who were helpful in developing her talents and in promoting her music. She was the pre-eminent French woman composer of the second half of the nineteenth century: her contemporaries would have seen her alongside such names as Berlioz, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, Bizet and Lalo. She left a considerable and varied body of work, much of which is of the highest quality and deserves to be heard more often. Compared to her contemporaries, we know relatively little about Marie de Grandval’s life and works, and it is to be hoped that future musicologists will unearth more about this remarkable and important composer.