Winnaretta used her fortune to benefit the arts, sciences, and letters. She was an accomplished pianist and painter who exhibited pieces in the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Her salon, in the music room of her Parisian mansion, became a gathering place for luminaries of French culture such as Diaghilev, Colette, Cocteau and Cole Porter. At the salon, she held premieres of works by Fauré, Debussy, and Stravinsky, whose modernist classic, Three Pieces for String Quartet, will be performed at this summer’s festival.
Knowing it would help his career, a young Maurice Ravel dedicated his 1899 “Pavane for a Dead Princess” to Winnaretta before ever meeting her or going to her salon. (Hear the piece played by Ravel himself.) And author Marcel Proust based scenes from “Remembrance of Things Past” on his visits to Winnaretta’s salon. Proust had an affair with Reynaldo Hahn, a songwriter and composer whose works will be featured in this year’s festival. (Listen to Hahn singing and playing his own songs.)
Winnaretta’s marriage was unconsummated. However, she was romantically involved with many women, including Violet Trefusis, who herself was famous for her affair with English poet and novelist Vita Sackwell-West of the Bloomsbury group.
There is so much more to learn about Winnaretta Singer! Order Sylvia Kahan’s Music’s Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer from our favorite Sonoma bookstore, Readers’ Books.