Société Nationale de Musique

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The Société Nationale de Musique was an important organisation in late 19th/early 20th century France to promote French music and to allow young composers to present their music in public. The motto was "Ars gallica[1]".


The society was founded on 25 February 1871 by Romain Bussine and Camille Saint-Saëns, who shared the presidency, and early members included Alexis de Castillon, Théodore Dubois, Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, César Franck, Jules Garcin, Ernest Guiraud, Jules Massenet, and Paul Taffanel[2]. It was conceived in reaction to the tendency in French music to favour vocal and operatic music over orchestral music, and to further the cause of French music in contrast to the Germanic tradition. "They were determined to unite in their efforts to spread the gospel of French music and to make known the works of living French composers ... According to their statutes ... their intention was to act 'in brotherly unity, with an absolute forgetfulness of self'".[3]

The first concert took place on 17 November 1871 and featured the Trio in B flat major by Franck, two songs by Dubois, Five Pieces in Ancient Style by Castillon, a reduction of the Violin Concerto by Garcin, an Improvisation for tenor by Massenet, and the Caprice héroïque for two pianos by Saint-Saëns. The concerts took place in the Salle Pleyel, the Salle Érard for orchestral concerts, and the church of Saint-Gervais for works with organ. Although the society had limited means, it was able to hire first-rate performers such as Sarasate, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Wanda Landowska.

In the 1880s, the society first began accepting manuscripts by non-French composers. Ernest Chausson served as secretary from 1883 until his death. Towards the end of that decade it accepted a number of composers of the rising generation, among them Debussy and Ravel.

In 1886, the society had a confrontational split over the issue of promoting foreign music, with the conservative Saint-Saëns facing off against Franck, Vincent d'Indy, and others. Franck was elected president, and both Bussine and Saint-Saëns resigned. With the death of Franck in 1890, d'Indy became president. After several hostile incidents, Ravel left the society and founded a new society called the Société musicale indépendante. Competition between the two societies and lack of new manuscripts led to a reduction in the activity of the society until the 1930s, when the induction of new members such as Olivier Messiaen breathed new life into it.



  1. ^ Strasser, Michael (1998). Ars Gallica. The Société Nationale de musique and Its Role in French Musical Life, 1871-1891 (Thesis). Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois.
  2. ^ Duchesneau, Michel (March 12, 2020). "1871. La Société Nationale de musique". Nouvelle histoire de la musique en France (1870-1950). Edited by the "Musique en France aux XXe et XXIe siècles : discours et idéologies" research team.
  3. ^ Vallas, p. 135.


Léon Vallas: César Franck (translated by Hubert J. Foss from La véritable histoire de César Franck [1949]); London: George G. Harrap and Co., 1951. Reprinted Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973.

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