Germaine Tailleferre

Germaine Tailleferre, French composer. One among thousands of women composers of clarinet music.
Germaine Tailleferre

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) was a French composer and the only female members of the group of composers known as Les Six. She is celebrated in the clarinet community for her enchanting Arabesque for clarinet and piano and a three-movement sonata for unaccompanied clarinet, numerous chamber works, and several other compositions and arrangements for clarinet and piano.

Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983)

Germaine Tailleferre (French: [tɑjfɛʁ]; born Marcelle Germaine Taillefesse; 19 April 1892 – 7 November 1983) was a French composer and the only female member of the group of composers known as Les Six.

Tailleferre was a prolific composer. Her most-often recorded works for clarinet include her enchanting Arabesque for clarinet and piano, and a three-movement Sonata for unaccompanied clarinet. She also composed for clarinet and piano a Menuet, an arrangement of a work for piano titled Sicilienne, and a set of Three Pieces based on movements from her 1929 ballet, La Nouvelle Cythère. In fact, the opening theme of the first movement bears striking resemblance to the opening theme of her Arabesque, for which she seems to have also borrowed from her ballet. Myriad chamber works also exist, some featuring borrowed themes or movements from her own works. Click here or scroll to the end of the page for a complete list, purchase information, and available recording samples.

Marcelle Germaine Taillefesse was born at Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, Val-de-Marne, France, but as a young woman she changed her last name from “Taillefesse” to “Tailleferre” to spite her father, who had refused to support her musical studies. She studied piano with her mother at home, composing short works of her own, after which she began studying at the Paris Conservatory where she met Louis Durey, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Georges Auric, and Arthur Honegger. At the Paris Conservatory her skills were rewarded with prizes in several categories. Most notably, Tailleferre wrote 18 short works in the Petit livre de harpe de Madame Tardieu for Caroline Luigini, the Conservatory’s Assistant Professor of harp.

With her new friends, she soon was associating with the artistic crowd in the Paris districts of Montmartre and Montparnasse, including the sculptor Emmanuel Centore who later married her sister Jeanne. It was in the Montparnasse atelier of one of her painter friends where the initial idea for Les Six began. The publication of Jean Cocteau’s manifesto Le coq et l’Arlequin resulted in Henri Collet’s media articles that led to instant fame for the group, of which Tailleferre was the only female member.

In 1923, Tailleferre began to spend a great deal of time with Maurice Ravel at his home in Montfort-l’Amaury. Ravel encouraged her to enter the Prix de Rome Competition. In 1926, she married Ralph Barton, an American caricaturist, and moved to Manhattan, New York. She remained in the United States until 1927, when she and her husband returned to France. They divorced shortly thereafter.

Tailleferre wrote many of her most important works during the 1920s, including her First Piano Concerto, the Harp Concertino, the ballets Le marchand d’oiseaux (the most frequently performed ballet in the repertoire of the Ballets suédois during the 1920s), La nouvelle Cythère, which was commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev for the ill-fated 1929 season of the famous Ballets Russes, and Sous les ramparts d’Athènes in collaboration with Paul Claudel, as well as several pioneering film scores, including B’anda, in which she used African themes.

In 1931 she gave birth to her only child, daughter Françoise Lageat, with lawyer Jean Lageat. The couple married one year later and would later divorce in 1955 after years of separation. 1,2

The 1930s were even more fruitful, with the Concerto for Two Pianos, Chorus, Saxophones, and Orchestra, the Violin Concerto, the opera cycle Du style galant au style méchant, the operas Zoulaïna and Le marin de Bolivar, and her masterwork, La cantate de Narcisse, in collaboration with Paul Valéry. Her work in film music included Le petit chose by Maurice Cloche and a series of documentaries.

At the outbreak of World War II, she was forced to leave the majority of her scores at her home in Grasse, with the exception of her recently completed Three Études for Piano and Orchestra. Escaping across Spain to Portugal, she found passage on a boat that brought her to the United States, where she lived the war years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After the war, in 1946, she returned to her home in France, where she composed orchestral and chamber music, plus numerous other works including the ballets Paris-Magie (with Lise Delarme) and Parisiana (for the Royal Ballet of Copenhagen), the operas Il était un petit navire (with Henri Jeanson), DoloresLa petite sirène (with Philippe Soupault, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Little Mermaid”), and Le maître (to a libretto by Ionesco), the musical comedy Parfums, the Concerto des vaines paroles for baritone voice, piano, and orchestra, the Concerto for Soprano and Orchestra, the Concertino for Flute, Piano, and Orchestra, the Second Piano Concerto, the Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra, her Second Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the Sonata for Harp, as well as an impressive number of film and television scores. The majority of this music was not published until after her death.

In 1976, she accepted the post of accompanist for a children’s music and movement class at the École alsacienne, a private school in Paris. During the last period of her life, she concentrated mainly on smaller forms due to increasing problems with arthritis in her hands. She nevertheless produced the Sonate champêtre for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and piano; the Sonata for Two PianosChorale and Variations for Two Pianos or Orchestra; a series of children’s songs (on texts by Jean Tardieu); and pieces for young pianists. Her last major work was the Concerto de la fidelité for coloratura soprano and orchestra, which was premièred at the Paris Opera the year before her death.

Germaine Tailleferre continued to compose right up until a few weeks before her death, on 7 November 1983 in Paris. She is buried in Quincy-Voisins, Seine-et-Marne, France.

Clarinet Compositions

Arabesque | 1973
Clarinet and piano
Publisher: Editions Henry Lemoine
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus

Trois Danses, extrait de La Nouvelle Cythère | 1929 (original publishing date of the opera)
Clarinet and piano (arrangement)
Publisher: Musik Fabrik
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus (digital download)
Purchase option 2: Sheet Music Plus (hard copy)

Sonata | 1957
Clarinet unaccompanied
Purchase Option 1: Ficks Music

Image | 1918
Clarinet, flute, 2 violins, viola, cello, celesta and piano
Publisher: G. Schirmer
Rent this score from
See notes for additional info

Menuet |
Clarinet and piano
Publisher: Musik Fabrik
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus

Sicilienne |
Clarinet and piano (likely arrangement)
Publisher: Musik Fabrik
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus (digital download)
Purchase option 2: Sheet Music Plus (hard copy)

Choral et Deux Variations | 1979
Clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, horn
Publisher: Musk Fabrik
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus (digital download)

Sarabande |
Two clarinets or clarinet and oboe
Purchase option 1: 2 clarinets
Purchase option 2: clarinet and oboe

Sonata champêtre | 1972
Clarinet, bassoon, piano
Publisher: Musik Fabrik
Purchase option 1: Sheet Music Plus (hard copy)
Purchase option 2: Sheet Music Plus (digital download)

Serenade in la mineur | 19–
clarinet, 2 oboes, bassoon, piano
Purchase option 1:

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  1.  “Gérard Billaudot Éditeur | Germaine Tailleferre” Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  2. Hacquard, Georges (1999). Germaine Tailleferre : La Dame des Six. Paris: L’Harmattan. ISBN 978-2-7384-7102-4.
  3. Mitgang, Laura (May 23, 1982). “ONE OF ‘LES SIX’ STILL AT WORK”New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  4. “Dutch Journal of Music Theory,”, Retrieved March 22, 2022.

Image, although published in 1918, has not been uploaded to IMSLP. It appears that G. Schirmer’s original publication has been acquired by publishing company Wise Music, owned by Robert Wise. The location of the original manuscript is not known by the authors of this site, however, musicologist Robert Orledge published a catalogue of Tailleferre’s manuscript sources in: Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983): A Centenary Appraisal” Muziek & Wetenschap 2 (Summer 1992). The Dutch musicology journal, Muziek & Wetenschap, was operational until 2013. From 2014 onwards the Dutch Journal of Music Theory is published by Leuven University Press and appears under the new name Music Theory and Analysis (MTA), International Journal of the Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory. It is edited by Pieter Bergé, Steven Vande Moortele and Nathan J. Martin.4 This article or its author may have additional information about the location of the original manuscript.

Publication date:

This page was last updated 3/22/2021

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