Augusta Mary Ann Holmes was born in Paris in 1847 of an Irish father, Dalkieth Holmes, and an English mother, but later became a naturalized Frenchwoman. Her Godfather was the celebrated poet, novelist and playwright Alfred de Vigny. Augusta's musical talent was obvious from an early age but her parents were vehemently opposed to any kind of musical career. They allowed her only to have painting lessons. But the love of music was too great for Augusta, and her first public appearances were as a child prodigy at the piano. She began her compositional career by writing songs, but at the age of 11 one of her works, a quick-step, was performed at Versailles by an artillery band.
After preliminary work with other teachers, she began studying composition with the great Cesar Franck, and before too long her works were receiving critical acclaim. Her first opera, "Hero et Leandre," was staged in 1874 and a little later her psalm setting, "In Exitu" received its premiere performance. Another symphony ,"Lutece," was entered into a competition with works by Benjamin Godard and Francois Clement Dubois and won third prize. A symphonic poem "Pologne" was also performed in public to enthusiastic audiences.
Holmes enjoyed writing large-scale compositions, and she wrote lyric dramas, symphonic poems and odes, and her "Triumphal Ode," ( a work for a chorus of 900 and an orchestra of 300) was so successful that the name of Augusta Holmes became known far and wide. More important works followed and the number of major compositions is staggering, considering the fact that women of her time were not encouraged to compose.
Augusta Holmes wrote many songs, and they were said to have been of unusual beauty. She was also able to write the words for many of her songs and had the abiliy to hear the music in her head as she wrote the lyrics. Some of these songs were written under the name Hermann Zenta. She was also an accomplished linguist and spoke fluent English, French, German and Italian.
In her private life Augusta Holmes enjoyed popularity in the sophisticated social circles of Paris. She met the French poet Catulle Mendes (1841-1909), and a love affair developed. Although they never married, they had four children together.
In a biographical sketch of Holmes the writer Imbert says, "With her, nobility of thought and sentiment take first place. She worships the beautiful, and her Muse has sung only subjects that are worthy of being sung. She is masterly in her ease, and all the resources of orchestration are known to her."
August Mary Ann Holmes died at Paris on January 28,1903.
Year / Artwork
La belle Madeleine
Parmi les meules
Rebecca de Pont Davies - Mezzo Soprano
Clare Toomer - Piano