Germaine Tailleferre was born on April 19, 1892. She was a French composer and the only female member of a group of composers known as Les six. She was born as Marcelle Taillefesse, but when she became a young woman she decided to change her name to “Tailleferre” to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies.
She started her music studies at home with her mother and composing short works, after this she began studying at the Paris Conservatory, place where she met Louis Durey, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric and Arthur Honegger. There, her skills were rewarded with prizes in several categories. Most notably, she wrote 18 short works in the Petit livre de harpe de Madame Tardieu for Caroline Luigini, the Conservatory’s Assistant Professor of harp.
With her new friends, she soon was associating with the artistic crowd in the Paris districts of Montmartre and Montparnasse; and it was in the Montparnasse atelier of one of her painter friends where the initial idea for Les Six began. The publication of Jean Cocteau’s manifesto Le coq et l’Arlequin resulted in Henri Collet’s media articles that led the group of friends to instant fame. She was the only female member.
In 1925, she married an American caricaturist and moved with him to New York, where she remained for two years, then they returned to France and divorced shortly thereafter.
Many of the most important works of her career she wrote during the 1920s, including her 1st Piano Concerto, the Harp Concertino and the ballets Le marchand d’oiseaux, La nouvelle Cytère, which was commissioned by Diaghilev, and Sous les ramparts d’Athènes in collaboration with Paul Claudel.
The 1930s were even more fruitful, with the opera cycle Du style galant au style méchant, the operas Zoulaïna and Le marin de Bolivar, and La cantata de Narcisse which was a collaboration with Paul Valéry and it’s considered as her masterwork.
In 1946, she returned to france and composed orchestral and chamber music and many other works, including the opera La petite sirène with Philippe Soupault based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, but the majority of this music was not published until after her death.
In the last period of her life she concentrated mainly on smaller forms due to increasing problems with arthritis in her hands. Her last major work was the Concerto de la fidelité for coloratura soprano and orchestra, which was premièred at the Paris Opera the year before her death. Germaine Tailleferre continued to compose right up until a few weeks before her death, on 7 November 1983 in Paris. She is buried in Quincy-Voisins, Seine-et-Marne, France.
- Tailleferre met Maurice Ravel in 1923, who encouraged her to enter the Prix de Rome Competition (a scholarship for art students).
- During the World War II she moved again to United States.
- Theres is a street in Arcueil named after her since 1987, as well as another in Quincy-Voisins since November 2003. There are also “Germaine-Tailleferre” streets in Vitry-sur-Seine, Bobigny, Bordeaux, Tours and Paris (near the Cité de la Musique, the 19th arrondissement).
- Virginia Woolf cites Germaine Tailleferre in A room of one’s own among the examples of women misjudged by the simple fact of their sex.