The Power Struggle


They were some of the greatest composers France had ever heard—Camille Saint-Saens, Vincent d’Indy, and Cesar Franck–and they were locked in a power struggle over fame and love.

Needless to say, music also played a part in their conflict. The setting was the Société Nationale that Saint-Saens had founded fifteen years earlier. The year was 1886 and Saint-Saens, at 51, was considered an old reactionary by many of the newer composers at the society. Foremost among his musical offenses was Saint-Saens’ opposition to the music of Richard Wagner. He also disliked sixty-four-year-old Cesar Franck, who was the idol of d’Indy and his followers.

Saint-Saens was undoubtedly jealous of Cesar Franck the composer, but his jealously and dislike of Franck was not entirely musical. In fact, Saint-Saens had taken part in the performances of many works by Franck. The falling-out had more to do with a young woman named Auguste Holmes to whom both Franck and Saint-Saens were attracted. The affair of Mademoiselle Holmes had come to a boil during one such performance–the premiere of the great “D Minor Piano Quintet” by Franck. The quintet was dedicated to Saint-Saens, but it expressed a good deal of Franck’s passion for young Auguste, and Saint-Saens, having heard rumors about a relationship between Franck and Auguste, may well have been performing the quintet while trying to cope with increasing jealousy. When the performance was finally over, Saint-Saens hurried from the stage, leaving the autographed manuscript on the piano.

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That sort of thing had been going on for six years, and d’Indy decided it was time to oust Saint-Saens from the Society. He hit on a plan to do just that. Knowing how adamant Saint-Saens was about a Society devoted exclusively to French music, d’Indy led his young cohorts in passing a resolution to include foreign music at the Society’s concerts. Pressed to the limit, Saint-Saens promptly resigned his presidency, and a new president was chosen–his rival for the affections of Auguste–Cesar Franck.

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