La Belle, La Perfectly Swell Romance

The generosity of the Women’s Task Force Fund has enabled the Loeb Music Library to acquire a wide variety of rare works by women composers: some, like Carrie Jacobs Bond or Liza Lehmann, top of the charts in their lifetimes but less known today, some, like Miss Mellish, composer of My Phillida, adieu love, hauntingly obscure: we don’t even know her first name. None of them pique this writer’s curiosity more than the one-woman hit machine known as Loïsa Puget.

Cover engraving from "À la grâce de Dieu" (1836) Even then, the old "let's make her look as if she's smoking" routine was irresistible, apparently.

Puget (1810-1889) was one of the most popular and playable French songwriters of the 1830’s.  Her romances, or simple, pretty, easy-to-sing ballads of peasant and bourgeois life, were as much a part of life as the poke bonnet.  Her mother had been an singer, and made music a large part of her daughter’s education, which included some time at the same boarding school as the young George Sand (then known as Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin.)  Quick to spot the one other pupil interested in the arts, Sand remarked on the younger girl’s talent, vivacity, roguery and beauty.  These served Puget well as she began to make a name for herself as a songwriter, singing and accompanying her own ballads in the salons of the well-to-do. Her facility and charm won over such diverse people as Hector Berlioz, who ruefully remarked that to the people of Paris all the symphonies in the world are not worth a romance by Loïsa Puget sung by their favorite prima donna, and the dialect poet Jacques Jasmin, who wrote a poem praising her melodies, at which “la terro tout s’amayzo, tout se tayzo.”  Together, Puget and Gustave Lemoine, her lyricist, dominated family music racks, school songbooks, popular concerts and after-dinner piano singalongs from 1830 to 1845, when composer and lyricist married, fashions in song began to change, and Puget’s prolific production rate slowed down.

Puget enjoyed herself thoroughly giving her public exactly what they wanted, even, in 1836, an opera, Le mauvais œil, but her greatest hit was “À la grâce de Dieu.”  If cell phones had been available in 1836, Puget’s ballad would have been the most popular ringtone in France.  A mother’s song of farewell as she watches her daughter leave her village to seek her fortune in Paris, this romance was the “Single Ladies” of its day: church organs played it, dance bands played it, accomplished young women beguiled the long evenings with it.  It was so successful that in 1841 Lemoine and Adolphe Philippe D’Ennery elaborated the basic idea into a melodrama, La Grâce de Dieu, which in turn became the basis for Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix.

Loeb Music Library owns seventy-two pamphlet scores of Puget’s romances. The earliest dates to 1830.  In addition, a score of Le mauvais œil is available for study in the Merritt Room.

– Sarah Barton

1 Comment

  1. Bonjour,
    Happy to read that the library has an interest for Loïsa Puget! As a music historian specialist of french women composers, I devoted quite a lot of my studies to her. I would be very happy to know where Sarah Barton found the information about Loïsa Puget and George Sand sharing the same boarding school. I am also very pleased to hear about the poem in “occitan” by Jacques Jasmin and shall look for it. I also would like to correct a few mistakes: her poet, whom she married in 1945, was called Gustave and not Alfred. “Le Mauvais Oeil” was a comic-opera, and did not consist of numbers set to her popular romances. This confusion emanates probably from Berlioz’s review of the piece, which sees in it a succession of romance-typed pieces, but an examination of the work shows that this is not the case! (I devoted some pages to the piece in my thesis). Puget’s romances were indeed popular on stage, but in the “vaudevilles”, a type of plays that interspersed dialogues with popular songs of the time.
    Bien amicalement.
    Florence Launay
    Mannheim, Germany

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