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Music's Modern Muse
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The American-born Winnaretta Singer (1865-1943) was a millionaire at the age of eighteen, due to her inheriting a substantial part of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune. Her 1893 marriage to Prince Edmond de Polignac, an amateur composer, brought her into contact with the most elite strata of French society. After Edmond's death in 1901, she used her fortune to benefit the arts, science, and letters. Her most significant contribution was in the musical domain: in addition to subsidizing individual artists (Boulanger, Haskil, Rubinstein, Horowitz) and organizations (the Ballets Russes, l'Opera de Paris, l'Orchestre Symphonique de Paris), she made a lifelong project of commissioning new musical works from composers, many of them unknown and struggling, to be performed in her Paris salon. The list of works created as a result is long and extraordinary: Stravinsky's Renard, Satie's Socrate, Falla's El Retablo de Maese Pedro, and Poulenc's Two-Piano and Organ Concertos are among the best-known titles. In addition, her salon was a gathering place for luminaries of French culture such as Proust, Cocteau, Monet, Diaghilev, and Colette. Many of Proust's memorable evocations of salon culture were born during his attendance at concerts in the Polignac music room. Sylvia Kahan brings to life this eccentic and extravagant lover of the arts, whose influence on the 20th Century world of music and literature remains incalculable.
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This is a book to be referred to again and again...an authoritative study that will give any interested reader an overview of a fascinating artistic epoch with a complex and intriguing survivor at its helm. Underneath the forbidding exterior, "Aunt Winnie" was a sensitive and selfless philanthropist, both acutely perceptive of genuine talent in others and wide-ranging in her patronage. These aspects shine clearly through the mine of detailed information in Sylvia Kahan's important new study. --Robert Orledge, Times Literary Supplement Kahan appears to have gotten as close to Singer-Polignac as any scholar could in the many years she worked on this good book. NOTES, March 2005 This is a compelling portrait of one of the Belle Epoque's most influential musical patrons... Kahan does justice to this inspiring woman's legacy by crafting a biography that is heartfelt and stimulating. FRENCH REVIEW, 2006, Eileen M. Angelini Wonderfully researched... Sensitively sets Singer Polignac's vibrant lesbianism in the context of the times. CLASSICAL MUSIC (Andrew Green)

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