Augusta Holmès’ compositions won awards and acclaim from admirers including Liszt and Saint-Saëns, so why is she, and so many of her female contemporaries, all but forgotten today?
Augusta Holmès was a remarkably gifted French composer, pianist and singer with a voice of extraordinary range and colour. Rossini told an audience after one of her early concerts: “Mark my words, you will hear a lot more from her. Remember that Rossini told you this.” Liszt wrote that the works by her male contemporaries were mere trifles compared to her 1870 opera Astarté.
She was a prolific composer of music conceived for large forces. She wrote her own texts and libretti, and took part in designing sets and costumes for her operas. She was well connected in Paris’s cultural circles, counting among her friends and supporters Saint-Saëns (who repeatedly proposed marriage), César Franck, Vincent d’Indy, Stéphane Mallarmé, Rodin and Renoir, who painted her three daughters.
One critic of the 19th century wrote, ‘We do not want to open the doors of our opera houses to women composers’