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Blanche Selva: her pianistic legacy

Aguirre Quinonero, Maite (2023). Blanche Selva: her pianistic legacy. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, Guildhall School of Music and Drama)


Blanche Selva (1884-1942) was an eminent French-Catalan pianist, pedagogue, author, editor and composer. She acquired a formidable technique that allowed her to give the first performance of important works such as Albéniz’s Iberia while being equally comfortable playing all of Bach’s keyboard music, 32 Beethoven Sonatas and copious amounts of new music. She held prominent positions as a teacher, first at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, then the conservatoires in Strasbourg, Prague and the École Normale in Paris. She wrote several books, including a treatise on piano technique and her catalogue as an editor comprises nearly 200 works. Selva also composed pieces for solo piano and organ as well as chamber music and choral works.

Despite such a versatile and successful career, Blanche Selva’s role in the development of twentieth-century pianism has been seriously overlooked. This thesis provides the first comprehensive, English-language account of her career, addressing her under-representation in modern scholarship of the period. Further, her unique trajectory and exceptional musical and technical insights offer viable solutions applicable to the modern pianist and piano teacher.

The thesis is based on extensive documentary evidence, most notably concert programmes, letters and her own recordings, as well as practice-based research. Her seven-volume treatise on teaching piano technique — L’Enseignement musical de la technique du piano (1916-1925) — has been examined at a practical level by applying its precepts to my own piano practice and in lessons with my students. I have also conducted interviews with pupils of former students of Selva to understand better what aspects, if any, of her method, have permeated later teaching practices.

Blanche Selva emerges from this research as a remarkable musician and personality whose study will better inform our views of early twentieth-century performance practice, where some women had a more influential role than they have been given credit for. Her technical proposals are unique in their scope and the amount of detail that she provides for their study is likewise remarkable. Her method is sound, and its study will help modern pianists and teachers alike. Likewise, a thorough examination of her recorded work provides a tangible testament to her technical and musical abilities as well as the modernity of her approach, opening avenues for pianists of the twenty-first century.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
Departments: Doctoral Theses
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