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Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944)

Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade (August 8, 1857 – April 13, 1944) was a French composer and pianist.

from 'I am music's nun', Charlotte Higgins, Saturday January 26, 2002, Guardian

Chaminade was on the eccentric side. She was a vegetarian, then almost unheard of in France (according to family folklore, medical complications arising from the strictness of her diet led to one of her feet being amputated in 1938). She was also a spiritualist: she tried to contact her late mother and once felt the soul of Beethoven in Bonn.

Unfortunately, but not unusually, Ms. Higgins displays her ignorance about vegetarianism, it was certainly not 'unheard of' in France, though we're not told when 'then' refers to. The above article was written to promote a new recording of Chaminade's songs, so not surprisingly the same strange story is repeated for the deutschegrammophon sleeve notes:

Exhausted from her constant activity and enervated by an overly strict vegetarian diet, she was forced to have a foot amputated in 1938 and subsequently retired to Monte Carlo.

We get a slightly clearer picture from an obituary in Time magazine Monday, May 01, 1944:

In Monte Carlo last week death came to the most famous woman composer who ever lived. Frail, white-haired, 86-year-old Cécile Louise Stéphanie Chaminade had been bedridden with a bone disease for more than a decade.

. . . At the height of Chaminade's vogue, in the early 1900s, her U.S. feminine admirers had formed more than 200 "Chaminade Clubs." Her Scarf Dance ended by selling over five million copies.

Her family appear to be displaying equal ingorance in the 'family folklore' which blamed her bone disease on her vegetarianism. At present we have no idea when or why she became vegetarian, though the reference to being a spiritualist suggests a possible link with Theosophy, which would have included vegetarianism.

 

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