Marie Emmanuelle Bayon Louis

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Portrait of Madame Louis composing music, circa 1777, Paris

Marie-Emmanuelle Bayon Louis (1746, Marcei – 29 March 1825, Aubevoye) was a French composer, pianist, and salonnière. The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers credits her for making the fortepiano popular in France.[1] In 1770 she married the architect Victor Louis.[2]


Madame Louis, née Marie-Emmanuelle Bayon, was a French composer, pianist, and salonnière of considerable activity and influence. Her principal published works are, as Mademoiselle Bayon, a collection of six keyboard sonatas, three of them with violin accompaniment, opus 1 (1769), and, as Madame Louis, the full score of her two-act opéra-comique, Fleur d’épine, or "May-Flower" (the heroine’s name), scored for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. The composer’s unpublished works, discussed during her lifetime but not yet found, include further instrumental chamber music and opéra-comiques, and music for La fête de Saint Pierre, a divertissement to a libretto by Antoine-François Quétant (1733–1823), performed at the Château de la Cour-Neuve in Paris on St. Peter’s day in 1771. [3]

Early life[edit]

Marie-Emmanuelle Bayon was born in Marcei, department of Orne (west of Paris), in 1746. In her preface to the op. 1 sonatas she refers to "the many kindnesses bestowed upon me since my tenderest infancy" by the family of Madame la Marquise de Langeron to whom the volume is dedicated. It may be assumed that Bayon grew up in or near Paris and received, perhaps through this patronage, special training in music. Accounts of her activities from the age of about twenty-one appear in the memoirs and correspondence of some of the leading women and men of the eighteenth-century French Enlightenment. She composed instrumental music and music for plays, which she performed at Madame de Genlis’s salon on the rue de Grenelle in collaboration with noted amateurs like herself as well as internationally known French and foreign professional musicians. She also participated as actor-singer in salon dramatic productions, such as comédies, skits, and proverbs. Her good friend, the encyclopedist and philosopher Denis Diderot, would compare her work to that of Domenico Alberti, Johann Christian Bach, Johann Gottfried Eckard, [[Johann Schobert]], and other foreign composers whose music was currently admired in Paris. In 1770, on 20 June, Bayon married Victor Louis (1731–1800), an architect with important social and political connections similar to her own. In 1774 the couple’s only child was born, Marie-Hélène-Victoire Louis (d. 1848). In Bordeaux the Louis residence became the site of a highly select salon. Sources also mention performances of two "opéras" by Madame Louis. It was during this period, probably in 1775–76, that she completed Fleur d’épine. [4]


Diderot hired Bayon to take on his daughter, Angelique, as a student. In a series of dialogues published in 1771, Diderot offers some insight into Bayon’s character and the impact she left upon his daughter. At one lesson Angelique describes her teacher as "a charming woman, in whom one does not know what to praise the most—her mind, her character, her morals, or her talent," and adds that her composition has "facility, expression, grace, melody." At a subsequent lesson the student compares "pieces by my friend Madame Louis" to those of the Venetian composer Domenico Alberti (ca. 1710–1740), a collection of whose sonatas had been published in Paris in 1760: both composers must be played "with delicacy and good taste" and are therefore difficult to perform, the pupil observes. By contrast, she knows pieces that are "strong in harmony, loaded with sounds, varied through modulations," so that, while they may sound difficult, they "require only precision and a steady beat." [5]

Fleur d’épine[edit]

The published score contains an overture and twenty musical numbers—eleven ariettes, or arias, sung by four of the five characters) plus two duets, two trios, ensemble finales for each act, two small chorus numbers, and a brief instrumental fanfare. The Overture is in two sections, Allegro and Andante, each in Classic key-area form (sonata form). The energetic opening section in G Major modulates to D major and then explores D minor and other keys, with new melodic motives, before returning to the home key. In the Andante in C major the composer creates a softer texture by omitting horns and scoring initial statements of each melody for strings alone. The expected return to the first key of the overture is accomplished by the opening duet, which begins in G-major. The arias are generally in "ABA" form with a brief orchestral introduction. The production of Fleur d’épine attracted the attention of several Paris writers and critics. The Mémoires secrètes for 23 August, the day after the premiere, noted that Fleur d’épine, a "fairy play" (féerie), was "well received." The writer commented that, while the beginning was cold and without wit, the end of the first act was better and the second act was "charming," with "flashes of wit" and "a magnificent spectacle." (The theatre had a suspended platform that could be lowered and raised over the stage and this was probably used for Seraine’s final entrance in all her glory.) The short review concluded: "The Comédiens spent a lot of money on this play. The music, not very strong, is pleasant." A second review, dated 26 August, was longer and more enthusiastic. The plot was recounted at some length and the play was reported to be "wonderfully successful." The echo scene was singled out for praise, as was the spectacle of Dentue’s "assembled relatives," an "indescribly laughable" collection of "the most hideous and bizarre figures." The writer reported that Madame Trial "sings deliciously," and described the effectiveness of each of the other four actors in glowing terms. The review in the Correspondance secrète dated 31 August pronounced the premiere performance "monstrous," especially the sight of a man playing a woman (Dentue). The reviewer recounted the plot in detail, noting that the joke about the sleepy "great nobleman" was "singularly applauded." The writer also reported, erroneously, that Fleur d’Épine was based on "a few fragments" found in Voisenon’s papers, and incorrectly named the work’s producers. The music was described as "sweet but feeble," offering few memorable tunes. A second report on 7 September noted that in a subsequent performance Fleur-d’Èpine had undergone so many "corrections" that it was "tolerable enough" to continue playing. [6]

Published Works (Selective)[edit]

Six sonates, op.1. Paris, Vendôme, 1769 (facsimile ed., New York: Da Capo Press, 1990).
Fleur d’épine, full score. Paris, 1776. Excerpts, ed. D. Hayes, in Women Composers: Music Through the Ages (12 vols; New York: G. K. Hall/Macmillan, 1995- ), vols. 4 and 5.

Later Life and Death[edit]

During the French Revolution from 1789–92 and the even more turbulent times that followed, when the French passion for theatre, including music theatre, continued to find new means of expression, "citizen Louis" still worked in Paris. By the late 1790s (according to Madame de Vandeul), Madame Louis was becoming deaf and infirme (in what way is not specified) and her husband had little to do with her. Madame de Vandeul, with whom she attended the occasional concert and spent much time, described him as totally selfish and self-centered, concerned only with his projects, while Madame Louis was left with "the children and their thousand complaints, a sick father, a retarded brother, penniless sisters." After Victor Louis died in 1800, Madame Louis remained in Paris and lived for a time in the Vandeul apartment. She died at the Louis family’s country residence at Aubevoye, a rich abbey her husband had owned in the vicinity of Rouen, canton of Gaillon, department of Eure, on 19 March 1825. [7]

Influence and Legacy[edit]

With the notable exception of Fleur d’épine, Madame Louis evidently wrote and performed music principally for private gatherings. Her social position, both before and after her marriage, prevented her from holding a paid, professional appointment, yet it gave her considerable influence in matters of taste and style. In 1776, a notice in the Correspondance secrète—news of the French court, society, and culture—identified Madame Louis, composer of Fleur d’épine, as the person who was "already famous under the name Mademoiselle Bayon for her musical talents. She is the one who brought into fashion the forte-piano, the instrument that is now all the rage." [8]


  1. ^ Julie Anne Sadie; Rhian Samuel (1994). The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-393-03487-5.
  2. ^ Deborah Hayes, Introduction to Marie-Emmanuelle Bayon Louis: Fleur d’épine (‘Mayflower’), opéra-comique; excerpts from full score, 1776, In Women Composers: Music Through the Ages, edited by Sylvia Glickman and Martha Schleifer (12 vols; New York: G. K. Hall/Macmillan, 1995- ), vol. 4, pp. 93-154; and Introduction to Overture to Fleur d'épine in ibid., vol. 5, pp. 69-87.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-15. Retrieved 2017-05-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)