These days, it’s still considered “news” when the Metropolitan Opera stages an opera by a female composer, so one might assume that in the 19th century, the performance of any opera written by a woman would have been even more sensational.
Well, that wasn’t the case on today’s date in 1895, when the Paris Opera staged “La Montagne noire,” or “The Black Mountain,” by Augusta Holmes, or “Augusta Holmès” as she was known in France. Her opera was performed 13 times, but never revived. The jaded French audiences were already quite familiar with the sensational Mademoiselle Holmès, it seems.
Born in Paris in 1847 of Irish parents, Augusta was a musical prodigy as a child, a stunning beauty as a young woman, and a composition student of César Franck. And, rare for her time, she was a financially independent artist due to a fortune inherited from her father. Rarer still: despite 19th century prejudice against female composers, Augusta’s orchestra scores were championed and premiered by Parisian orchestras, and she received major commissions for elaborate national celebrations.
By the time of her death in 1903, however, Augusta Holmès was regarded as a curious but minor figure in the history of French music. In our time, some of her orchestral works, like her symphonic tone-poem “Ireland,” have been revived, and, along with other creations of past women composers, are being reappraised by performers of the present.
Music Played in Today's Program
Augusta Holmès (1847 – 1903)Irlande (Ireland), Symphonic PoemRheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic; Samuel Friedmann, cond.Marco Polo 8.223449