AUGUSTA HOLMÈS (1847-1903)
Augusta Mary Anne Holmès was a French composer of Irish descent, who had to fight for the right to become a musician—her mother actively discouraged it, and only after her death was Augusta able to take music lessons. By 1875, her compositions were performed in France, and she became a celebrity in Parisian cultural circles. A disciple of César Franck, she was also a close friend of Franz Liszt, who admired her work and encouraged her to keep composing. She corresponded with the cultural elite of Europe, and held her own very popular salon from an early age.
Holmès declared ‘I must show the males what I’m made of!’ as she set out to compete in a male dominated profession. Her success is strikingly ‘modern’: she was entrepreneurial, and an excellent self-promoter with a highly developed emotional intelligence. She produced big, grandiose works when women were expected to write songs and salon pieces. Holmès came second in the inaugural City of Paris competition in 1878 with the programmatic symphony Lutéce, her first major work.
Her impressive musical output includes dramatic symphonies and symphonic poems, choral works (some still unpublished), two operas, and many songs. Her music was conceived for large forces, with inspirations drawn from classic myths, and, like Wagner, she wrote almost exclusively her own texts and libretti to her choral, vocal and operatic works. Holmès’ powerful, energetic music bears witness to how this woman held her own in a sphere where men exerted so much influence. Her compositions were often characterised as ‘masculine’ and ‘virile’ by the men she competed against.
Source: Royal College of Music
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