Before 1900

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Winnaretta Singer wanted to give priority to her favorite music, especially the modern one. Before 1900, her musical tastes were already sophisticated. The first concerts she organised in her wooden atelier located in the rue Cortambert in Paris took place in the late 1880s. She had a beautiful Cavaillé-Coll organ she used to play in her atelier.

In comparison to other well-known salons, such as the one of the baroness Alphonse de Rotchshild, or the countesses Greffuhle, de Béarn or de Taskin, Winnaretta’s first events proposed a musical programme excellence with brilliant musicians. Composers from the former generation were often invited to present their works: Emmanuel Chabrier, Fauré, Reynaldo Hahn… But her love for modern music was so strong that she helped younger composers of the avant-garde most of her lifetime: Satie, Ravel, Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Germaine Tailleferre, Darius Milhaud, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger. 

From 1900

Posted in Patron of the arts

For forty-five years, Winnaretta’s salon had become a very famous and influential place in the parisian society. 

With her husband, Prince Edmond de Polignac, she wanted to create a place for artistic development. Their musical evenings were held more regularly with time and were inspired by the ones of Winnaretta’s old friend, Marguerite Baugnies, who had married sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux in 1892. Marcel Proust, who was often invited to the Polignacs’ concerts, mentioned their salon in his book A la Recherche du temps perdu.

As the reputation of the Polignacs' salon grew, the audience changed too. Many of the artists Winnaretta Singer had met at Saint-Marceaux’s salon became the regulars of her own: Debussy, d’Indy, Chausson, Colette, the painters John Singer Sargent and Claude Monet.

The Polignacs were also the owners of a mansion in Venice bought in 1900, where they invited numerous of their friends.


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After the death of her husband in 1901, the Princess was entirely focused on music. Paris was still the artistic center of the world. The American artist Gerald Murphy who lived in Paris at the time remembered the excitement and the tension floating in the air, the impressive number of exhibitions, concerts, ballets or new plays happening in the city. Those were the places where one could meet the artistic and intellectual elite such as Jean Wiéner, André Gide, Diaghilev, Picasso, Misia Sert, Jean Cocteau, Anna de Noailles…

In the meantime, the Polignacs’ salon reflected this flourishing artistic activity. Artists and aristocrats used to meet there a dozen times a year to eat a sumptuous dinner and attend an exceptional musical event. The Princess was called “Aunt Winnie” by everyone. She was very careful to maintain an excellence level in her musical programming. In the audience, the love for music prevailed. Aristocrats, wealthy industrialists, and French government officials were mixed with writers such as Proust, Cocteau and Paul Valéry

The princess commissioned several works from young composers she loved for their modernity. After Satie’s Socrate, Stravinsky’s Renard and her niece Armande de Polignac’s La Recherche de la vérité, Winnaretta Singer asked a young Spanish composer to imagine an original work: El Retablo de Maese Pedro. It was created in her mansion in 1923. Her salon was also a very helpful means for composers to present their works for the first time. For example, the premiere of Stravinsky’s Noces was held at Winnaretta’s on June 10th 1923, three days before its official premiere at Théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique in Paris. Georges Auric and Marcelle Meyer were two of the pianists who played that night. It was a success. 

During the summer of 1923, she met for the first time the young Arthur Rubinstein in Venice. From then, he became one of the regulars of her parisian as well as venetian salon.

In 1924, Jean Wiéner played his Concerto franco-américain that the princess had commissioned. Winnaretta Singer also asked Darius Milhaud to compose a chamber opera. He decided to call it Les Malheurs d’Orphée as he got his inspiration from the legend of Orpheus. The princess, who was very passionate about classical literature, was delighted by his choice. 

A huge number of musicians played in the Polignac’s salon: Wanda Landowska, Maurice Duruflé, Marcel Dupré, Arthur Rubinstein, Horowitz, Prokofiev, Clara Haskil, Dinu Lipatti, Alfred Cortot, Jacques Février, Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, Markevitch, Marie-Blanche de Polignac, Jane Bathori, Irène Kédroff, Hugues Cuénod, Doda Conrad…


Posted in Patron of the arts

Winnaretta Singer commissioned two works from Igor Markevitch (Partita in 1930 and Hymnes in 1934). He was then one of the students of Nadia Boulanger. Thanks to him, both women met and became friends. Nadia started to teach organ lessons to Winnaretta and introduced her to another student, the young pianist Jean Françaix who wrote Sérénade pour douze instruments in 1934 and Le Diable boiteux in 1937, both commissioned by the princess. Winnaretta Singer played a major role in Nadia Boulanger’s career: by officially naming her music director of all the concerts held in the mansion, she gave Nadia the opportunity to gather singers and musicians to create her own ensemble.

While the political situation was getting worse in Europe at the end of the 1930s, the Princess helped Hindemith to leave the Nazi Germany. She also commissioned a work from the Jewish composer Kurt Weill who managed to seek refuge in France. 


Winnaretta’s patronage was not limited to music and arts. She helped scientifics such as Marie Curie and Edouard Branly, and supported disadvantaged people by funding some infrastructures. For instance, she participated in projects led by the Salvation Army. In 1926, she made a donation to reopen the Palais de la femme in Paris where 800 young and isolated women could get help. Then, she became the main patron of the Salvation Army and funded the renovation of the Louise-Catherine ship to open a floating sanctuary for the homeless. She chose the young architect Le Corbusier to do the work. In 1933, she again asked the Salvation Army to call for Le Corbusier to build the Cité de refuge, an accommodation and rehabilitation center still running today in Paris. She organized charity dinners and concerts to raise money for increasing the donations she already made.