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Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac (Eastman Studies in Music) Paperback – 30 Jun 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 572 pages
  • Publisher: University of Rochester Press; Reprint edition (30 Jun. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580463339
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580463331
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 714,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A splendid biography of the munificent princess. --Alex Ross (online at http://www.therestisnoise.com/2011/04/merci-beaucoup-domo-arigato.html) Superb new biography. . . The list of her achievements -- music dedicated to her, works commissioned by her, artists supported by her -- are all scrupulously recorded here. . . a dazzling and inspiring array. . . In Sylvia Kahan Winnaretta (Singer-Polignac) has a biographer able to explain her special mixture of arrogance, intelligence and bravery. THE TIMES (Margaret Reynolds) Her book is magnificently readable. The reader's complaint might be that it stopped after 550 pages and has not yet been made into a movie. THE VILLAGER A pleasure to read and a good reference book to keep. . . . (Winnaretta's) beautiful kingdom created a musical reality that we enjoy to this day. JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR WOMEN IN MUSIC (Julie Cross) The list of those who owed much to (the Princesse de Polignac) is simply breathtaking. . . . This biography by Sylvia Kahan (now available . . . in paperback) is easy to read as an adventure story just as much as it is a sideways glance at over half a century's cultural history. GRAMOPHONE (Geraint Lewis) This is a book to be referred to again and again. . . an authoritative study that will give any interested reader an overview of a fascinating artistic epoch with a complex and intriguing survivor at its helm. Underneath the forbidding exterior, "Aunt Winnie" was a sensitive and selfless philanthropist, both acutely perceptive of genuine talent in others and wide-ranging in her patronage. These aspects shine clearly through the mine of detailed information in Sylvia Kahan's important new study. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT (Robert Orledge) Kahan appears to have gotten as close to Singer-Polignac as any scholar could in the many years she worked on this good book. NOTES, March 2005 Kahan does justice to this inspiring woman's legacy by crafting a biography that is heartfelt and stimulating. FRENCH REVIEW, 2006 (Eileen M. Angelini) Wonderfully researched. . . . Sensitively sets Singer Polignac's vibrant lesbianism in the context of the times. CLASSICAL MUSIC (Andrew Green) A pleasure to read and a good reference book to keep. . . . (Winnaretta's) beautiful kingdom created a musical reality that we enjoy to this day. JOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR WOMEN IN MUSIC (Julie Cross)

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By James W. Johnston on 27 April 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fine product; quick service.
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Useful reference source, but a little uncritical 31 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's tough writing about someone you admire. It makes you let down your critical guard, makes you a bit too forgiving of things you ordinarily would not be. This is the big flaw of Kahan's book for me. Kahan goes out of her way to portray Winnaretta Singer as largely apolitical in a politically fraught climate. Given Singer's close acquaintances with people like Poincaré, Anna de Noailles and the rest, this is hard to believe. I'm not saying Singer was clearly of the Right or the Left; like several members of Parisian high culture at the time, Singer's politics couldn't be placed conveniently in one type or another. But this isn't the same as apolitical. It's one thing to shun politics; it's quite another to hold ambiguous political beliefs.
For example, Kahan writes: "By this point Ezra Pound had already begun to write his pro-Fascist manifestos; [Olga] Rudge showed them to Winnaretta, who found them 'very well done *indeed*.' The most generous interpretation here is that Winnaretta, adamantly apolitical, only wanted to compliment Rudge's lover."
Yes, that's a very generous interpretation. A less generous one would be that there were things in Pound's tracts that Singer found appealing. It's only understandable that Kahan would shy away from such readings, though; no one likes Fascism. But we don't have to label Winnaretta Singer a Fascist just because she liked Pound's Fascist texts. We can say that, like many intellectuals, Singer was attracted to *some* of the tenets of Fascism. Disturbing, yes, but probably closer to the truth than Kahan's black-and-white portrayal.
Another example: "The recital at Winnaretta's was, in fact, a run-through for the grand concert that Rudge and Münch would give at the Fascist Institute of Culture in Genoa in November of 1934. [P] Winnaretta seemed completely oblivious to the implications of being involved in crypto-Fascist musical activities. It was surely due more to a form of willful blindness than to any political stance on her part."
Again, being willfully blind is not the same as being apolitical. To be apolitical is to refuse to participate; to be willfully blind is to refuse to criticize. If Singer was as smart as Kahan says (and I think she was), then it's doubtful that Singer would have been "completely oblivious" to anything.
Avoiding clear-cut, black-and-white understandings of history is the hardest thing to do. Many times it feels like evasiveness; it makes the scholar feel like he or she is skirting the issue. I'm sure there were many things about Winnaretta Singer that were politically and morally admirable; but I find it hard to believe that a Princesse operating in such a Right-wing institution as the postwar Parisian haute culture would be this thoroughly innocent of the faults that were so prevalent among her fellow aristocrats.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Dry as a Bone. 14 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book at a book signing by the author at Lincoln Center in New York City this past winter. It seemed an interesting read about an interesting woman. This was not the case. The book reads more like a student's college paper than a biography. Mistakes and typos abound! The book also needed the talents of a good editor as the author can be frequently redundant. True, the book has some great pics, but they are often marred by poor reproductions. True, Ms. Singer did lead a fascinating life in Paris during the belle epoque, but she seems to be one of those people who were famous simply because of the artists they knew and not because they ever truly contributed anything. She held salons, but often paid no attention to the famous guests she was entertaining. The author dances very nimbly around the fact that her subject was not a very well-like woman, even by some of her closest confidants. And her husband, despite numerous protests by Ms. Kahan to the contrary, was a composer of dubious talents. It all reads like one of those stories where the wife has a ton of money and spends it to promote the mediocre talents of a loved one, then basks in whatever adulation is received, like a battleaxe of a stage mom that no one can say no to. The book is also rife with tons of filler - party guest lists, a cataloging of music played here, there and everywhere, an overlong bibliography. I am very certain that Ms. Kahan did an immense amount of research while writing this book, but not for one moment does its subject come to life. Ms. Singer appears like one of those folks who happen to be in the right place at the right time and became famous for all the wrong reasons. Doubtless the woman did something for the cause of music, but the book, and Ms. Kahan's writing style, is dry as a bone. The book is also exorbitantly overpriced.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Well-paced tale of Princesse de Polignac... the love and the life 28 Oct. 2011
By Samantha Buker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a casual biography of Winaretta Singer, this is the one. Intimacies abound. Details can border on the downright gossipy.

Yet the author doesn't skimp on the hard facts. You'll get great insight into her relationships with Marcel Proust, Debussy, Renaldo Hahn, Stravinsky, de Falla and others.

You'll also get to glimpse the parts of her life she most wanted to keep private: her love affairs. Any fan of painter Romaine Brooks will be interested to find she plays a role here. In fact, many of her portrait sitters also have walk-on roles in Winaretta's life.

Anecdotes abound, if you like program-note tidbits. I used this book and also Food of Love to write several articles on the salon culture of Belle Epoque Paris and Winaretta's role in it. She was at the center of it all, continuing on into the War years. Find out more...
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Buy it, read it, love it. 19 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A wonderful, well-researched history of a great patron of the arts in France during the latter part of the 19th and the early 20th century. The author takes us on an exquisite trip through the period in history when literature, art and music were French and France was the center of the artistic universe. You can only be jealous of the heroine of this history - the daughter of sewing machine inventor Isaac Singer - who could have been the ultimate name dropper. Degas, Picasso, Proust, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Turgenyev, Rubinstein, Balanchine, and on and on and on. She even managed to hire Poincare, later the Prime Minister, as her lawyer, and attended the wedding of the parents of Price Ranier of Monaco, whose father was a relative of her husband. Through painstaking research involving what must have been thousands of letters, newspaper articles, diary pages and other sources, the author has turned her years of work into a readable story of the development of modern classical music. It would have been easy to get lost in the Princesse's lesbian sexual preference to the detriment of the story. Luckily, the author, although she makes reference to the issue when it is important, does not get confused by the pop psychologist's attempt to turn everything into sexual warfare. For that effort, and for the painstaking research, Ms. Kahan deserve great praise and our undying gratitude.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
No Hunny For This Winnie 27 Nov. 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As an aficionado and practitioner of early music, I was delighted by the publication of "Music's Modern Muse," the new biography of Winnaretta ("Winnie") Singer-Polignac (1865-1943) by Sylvia Kahan. A detailed account of the important career of this American-born Paris-based music patroness was long overdue. But sadly, my anticipation for what could have been a milestone of the genre was soon soured on several levels. It is not surprising to learn that "Music's Modern Muse" is both Ms. Kahan's first book and an expansion of her doctoral dissertation as it bears the telltale signs of both. These include an unnecessarily overlong text at 369 pages, accompanied by several superfluous appendices, especially a 12-page guide to the notable guests who attended WSP's salon. Sadly, the latter comes across as a pretentious tactic by the author to further legitimize her subject. More troubling is Kahan's overall dismissal of Michael de Cossart's book "The Food of Love," the first full-length biographical study of WSP published originally in 1978. The core of Kahan's condemnation of this vastly entertaining study is in what she claims to be de Cossart's reliance upon rumors and outlandish stories as fact. So one must then question her citation of this same author's research on WSP in describing the subject's poignant death scene. At one point in "Music's Modern Muse," Ms. Kahan recognizes the fact that WSP was a constant target of negative criticism. The author maintains that the press and members of the Parisian elite of the day accused her unfairly of exploiting artists for self-serving gratification. But by now, the reader has already been treated to Kahan's unfortunate account of how WSP did not invite the musicians of a new work by Manuel de Falla to a private dinner in her home prior to their performance of it. And this included such renowned artists as Wanda Landowska and Francis Poulenc. Kahan quickly dismisses such grossly hypocritical behavior as being "no doubt less the result of parsimony than absent-mindedness: [WSP] had simply forgotten that the musicians would have no chance to eat between the final rehearsal and the performance." So much for this "modernist musical hostess." It should be noted that an otherwise finely written text is marred by the occasional misspelling of proper names and the appearance of factual errors. And this is truly a shame since the lasting worth of "Music's Modern Muse" would be most obviously as a reference book for specialists in the birth of Modern music at the turn of the twentieth century. On a lighter note, the biography is illustrated throughout, offering a selection of photographs and artwork reproductions of WSP. These document a long life and offer corroborative evidence as to the many contemporary reports of her unpleasing exterior, an unchanging condition clearly possessed from childhood. Ms. Kahan's achievement in publishing such a weighty tome on a relatively unknown but admirable patroness is laudable. But in the end, she presents us with a figure most perfectly epitomized by character actress Margaret Dumont, who specialized in being a foil to the Marx Brothers as a self-important, but inadvertently silly society grande dame.
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