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.
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.
– Sarah Barton