At the end of my January blog post about 19th-century French composer Louise Angélique Bertin, I promised that a feature was forthcoming about her contemporary Marie Felicie Clémence de Reiset, the Vicomtesse de Grandval (1828/30-1907). I can’t wait to share some Music Division treasures of hers with you in honor of Women’s History Month!
Marie Clémence de Reiset first studied composition with German composer Friedrich Flotow (1812-1883) during his first few years breaking into the Parisian opera scene, and later with Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Before Marie Clémence de Reiset gained her aristocratic title of “Vicomtesse” through marriage, the pianist, vocalist, and composer was a beloved performer-composer in Parisian chamber music salons. She was programmed in her lifetime alongside male contemporaries programmed far more often today than she is, like César Franck (1822-1890) and Camille Saint-Saëns.
Marie de Grandval appears in the Parisian musical press through the 1880s as a performer and composer. She composed for virtually every genre: operas, choral works, songs for voice and piano, orchestral works, and instrumental chamber music. Personally, I adore playing her 1876 Suite for flute and piano – which absolutely gives Charles-Marie Widor’s Suite, Op. 34 from 1877 a run for its money – and Villanelle in G minor for high voice, flute, and piano.
After Marie married military officer Charles de Grandval, her reputation and musical productivity thankfully did not diminish. Her established fame made the marriage newsworthy in the March 23, 1851 issue of La Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, where she is referred to as a composer (“compositeur”). A May 9, 1852 review in that publication refers to her as a vocalist, pianist, and composer, and expresses happiness that marriage did not force her to neglect her talents: “Dédaignant la phrase consacrée: Depuis mon mariage, j’ai négligé tout ça, Mme de Grandval, née de Reiset, la cantatrice, la pianiste-compositrice au talent gracieux, inspiré, mélodique et suffisamment scientifique, n’a heureusement négligé tout ça depuis elle mariage.”
Marie de Grandval was held in high regard by her contemporaries; composers Saint-Saëns, Charles Gounod (1818-1893), and Pauline Viardot García (1821-1910) all dedicated musical works to her. Grandval herself even dedicated her lyric poem for choir and orchestra La Forêt to Saint-Saëns. Despite prominent musical dedications to “Mme C. de Grandval,” her own compositions varied greatly with the name she chose for publication! Her pen names were Caroline Blangy, Clémence Valgrand, Maria Felicita de Reiset, and Maria Reiset de Tesier. The Music Division has scores printed in Marie de Grandval’s lifetime with pen names, including ones with handwritten dedications.
A Grandval publication of note in our collection is her 1860 one-act operetta Le sou de Lise. This piano-vocal reduction is published under one of her pen names, Caroline Blangy. You can see at the top of the title page that there is a signed dedication as “C. de Grandval” to an individual whose name has been crossed out. Another wonderful example in our collections is a likely 1867 edition of Marie de Grandval’s Messe in keyboard-vocal reduction. Her signed dedication at the top of the title page indicates that this copy was a personal gift to French composer Georges Bizet (1838-1875); it even has his blue ownership stamp! The inscription reads, “A monsieur G. Bizet souvenir amical, C. de Grandval.” This score is bound with a second gift from Grandval to Bizet, the piano-vocal reduction of her 1863 opera Les fiancés de Rosa, also inscribed at the top of the title page. Look carefully at the cover, though – it is published under one of Grandval’s pen names, Clémence Valgrand!
The Music Division has a second copy of Les fiancés de Rosa inscribed from Grandval to a man whose name is difficult to read, so it was not transcribed fully in our original card catalog entry for that reason. I can definitely make out “Souvenir amical de l’auteur à Mr …” I believe the rest of the inscription is “Ph. de Cuvillon.” Could this be the violinist Jean Baptiste Philémon de Cuvillon who taught violin at the Paris Conservatoire and performed in Parisian salons with Marie de Grandval? If this is indeed the violinist Cuvillon, it could provide further support for my sleuthing of a second inscription. Remember the work La Fôret dedicated to Saint-Saëns? Our copy has an inscription at the top that I believe says, “A Monsieur Marsick amical souvenir C. de Grandval.” Could this be another violin professor from the Paris Conservatoire, Martin Pierre Marsick (1847-1924)?
Readers, my assignment to you for Women’s History Month is to solve these inscriptions in the comments below!