We’re highlighting the life and music of pioneering women in classical music every weekday during March for Women's History Month.
Germaine Tailleferre was born near Paris in 1892. Initially studying piano with her mother, she was recognized as a child prodigy by age 5 when she began to compose. She entered the Paris Conservatory in 1904 where she studied with Ravel. By the outset of WW I, her music was being performed at new music concerts and was drawn into the Paris Avante Garde music and art scene where her circle now included Picasso, Modigliani, Georges Braque, Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and, importantly, Cocteau and Erik Satie.
A concert in 1917 inspired older composer Erik Satie (born 1866) to assemble a group of young composers around him from which he withdrew after a time, but then after notable articles about the avante garde by Jean Cocteau, the remaining composers gathered around the banner "Les Six." These were: Georges Auric (1899–1983), Louis Durey (1888–1979), Arthur Honegger (1892–1955), Darius Milhaud (1892–1974), Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) and, the only female, Germaine Tailleferre (1892–1983).
Les Six didn't share a musical philosophy except, in a general sense, toward a new musical expression away from Wagner, Romanticism, Debussy and Impressionism.
Married an American from 1925 Tailleferre lived with him in New York where Stokowski, Koussevitzky and others performed her music. She returned to France in 1927 with her husband and divorced shortly after. The 1920s and '30s were her most fruitful years of composition, with Concertos for piano, violin, harp and ballets among others. At this time she also began to write for films. IMDb lists 19 soundtrack credits as Composer over a 40 year period, 1926-1966. WW II found her again in the US, this time in Philadelphia. Upon her return to France in 1946, Tailleferre composed orchestral works, ballet and chamber music with most works from this period until her death being published posthumously.
She accepted a position in 1976 as accompanist for music classes for children in Paris and continued to compose mostly chamber music in many forms, songs for children and choral works. She continued to compose until a few weeks before her death in 1982.
Tailleferre's music has often been described as neo-classical, with charm, spontaneity and humor. In a 1983 obituary, the New York Times
quoted her as saying, "I write what I feel. If it gives the impression of being feminine, that's fine."