Blanche Marchesi: Saint-Saëns’ letter

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In this passage of her book Singer’s pilgrimage, Blanche Marchesi briefly recounts one of her collaborations with Camille Saint-Saëns in 1898 and transcribes the letter the composer sent her praising her rendition of his work.

In Queen Victoria’s time her personal love of music made it absolutely imperative for any house wishing to be among the most renowned drawing-rooms to give musical parties. In consequence artists were in such demand that they were kept busy, were covered with honours and made big incomes. I remember that on one night —and it naturally was just a night when I could not accept them— I received no less than nine engagements for big important social functions. I could not take any of them, because I had promised Saint-Saëns, who was conducting, to sing at the London Philharmonic Concert that very same evening, and I did not regret the sacrifice, as I introduced in England on that night La Fiancée du Timbalier under his conductorship, and received, together with him, one of the greatest ovations of my life. I have a beautiful letter in my possession, in which Saint-Saëns speaks of that memorable night, and in which he tells me about that beautiful ballad: “Vous I’avez déguignonnée.” It seems that till I sang it on that occasion it never had met with success anywhere, and he despaired of it ever making a success.


Vous avez été divine! Vous avez rendu avec une intensité de vie et de sentiment pittoresque cette petite oeuvre que vous rendez presque populaire. Jusqu’ici on n’a pas voulu y faire attention, je crois que vous l’avez déguignonnée.

Je vais ce soir à Windsor, c’est encore a vous que je le dois. Mais je suis brisé je vais, re vais jouer tantôt comme un sabot!! Enfin c’est par charité, tant pis!

Vous brillerez pour moi. Votre tout dévoué et reconnaissant.

C. Saint-Saëns.*

* You were divine! You have rendered with an intensity of life and picturesque feeling this little work which you made almost popular. Until now it had gone unfairly unnoticed, I think you have broken the jinx.

I am going to Windsor this evening, and, again, I owe it to you. I’m exhausted and I’m going to play terribly!! Anyway, it’s for charity, so be it!

You will shine for me. Yours devotedly and gratefully.

Text excerpted and translated from Singer’s pilgrimage, Blanche Marchesi, Boston, 1923.