In 1907 Camille Saint-Saëns dedicated his Fantaisie Op 124 for violin and harp to 'Mesdemoiselles Marianne et Clara Eissler', writing, with a characteristic lack of modesty to his publisher, Durand,
"Je viens de faire entendre aux demoiselles Eissler la Fantaisie qui leur est destinée ; si elles l’ont trouver un chef-d’œuvre, je vous laisse imaginer !"
[I have just informed the demoiselles Eissler of the Fantaisie intended for them; whether they find it a masterpiece I leave to your imagination.]
After the first performance in the Aeolian Hall in London on July 2nd 1907, as part of a complete programme of music by Saint-Saëns, Marianne, the violinist, wrote to him, reporting,
Ma soeur et moi nous vous devons un des plus grands succès de notre carrière. Votre nom retentissant nous a amené une salle comblée d’un auditoire musical et distingué, nous étions pénétrées de notre tâche et j’ose dire, que nous avons bien joués vos divines œuvres. Je crois que vous auriez approuvé la faç on de notre interprétation. Ayant eu la chance d’avoir obtenu vos précieux conseils nous avions plus de confiance en nous et je pense vous assurer, cher maître, que ma sœur et moi nous nous sommes bien rappelées de la manière que vous avez désiré que le duo soit interprété.
[My sister and I owe to you the greatest success of our career. The resounding endorsement of your name has brought a hall filled with a distinguished and musical audience; we were deeply engaged in our task, and I dare to report that we played your divine works well. I believe you would have approved of our interpretation. Having had the opportunity to obtain your precious advice, we had more confidence in ourselves and I think I can assure you, dear maitre, that my sister and I remembered well how you wanted the duo to be interpreted.]
In his Fantaisie Saint-Saëns brought together and sublimated the various elements that were staples in the Eissler repertory. Marianne specialised in virtuosic fireworks – Sarasate's Spanish works, Hungarian and Russian folk-inspired fantasies, and classics of Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Clara too was a virtuoso, playing especially Godefroid's Danse des Sylphes and the music of Hasselmans, Parish Alvars and John Thomas – salon music perhaps, but requiring great technical and communicative skills. Playing as a duo, they explored the emotions so beloved of their audiences – breathtaking moments of other-worldliness. Saint-Saëns took all of this and made a masterpiece that fitted their musical personae exactly. Marianne and Clara, sincere, pure, celibate, energetic and devoted to their music, were perhaps the embodiment of Saint-Saëns's idea of feminine perfection. A little while after the first performance he wrote to them,
Votre charme personnel vient encore s'ajouter aux oeuvres que vous interprétez et en augmente singulièrement la valeur. Gardiennes du feu sacré, vous savez bien le répandre autour de vous pour le plus grand bien des auteurs et des auditeurs.
[Your personal charm is again added to the works that you interpret and singularly augments their value. Custodians of the sacred fire, you know well how to spread it about you for the benefit of both composers and audiences.]
'Hommage aux Demoiselles Eissler' explores the background to the composition of the Fantaisie, with works by Spohr, Pierné, Oberthür, Thomas, Hasselmans, Thomé, Stanford and Wagner/Wilhelmj, making a sound picture of the Belle Epoque salon, and the extensive programme notes throw more light on the career of the Eissler sisters.
"I have had your Eissler CD for some while now and absolutely love everything about it. As if the performance and recording qualities alone weren't sufficient for lavish praise I think the research and scholarship that went into the preparation of the project are exemplary. I have a great fondness for harp music of this period and am immensely fascinated by harp history and the interactions of harpists and harp composers of any period, so your CD ticks many boxes for me. "
"I have been listening to your violin and harp cd and enjoying it immensely. Bravo!!! Not only the lovely playing but plaudits to you for such an enterprising and interesting programme."
"Music from the Romantic era for harp and violin. Gracious and lovely." WRUV
"It is always a joy to hear that which is unfamiliar, and while the works here are by-and-large short period pieces (excepting Spohr and Saint-Saëns) there is much charm to savour. This is due in large part to the sober and detailed performances of Broome and Mason, who show that while salon music may go out of fashion, it shouldn't be sneered at. Thanks must also go to the scholarly sleeve notes which are a fascinating read.
UK Harp Magazine
"I bought your CD and it is beautiful – congratulations!"
"This is a delightful and charming disc. Jenny Broome and Frances Mason play all the music with skill and obvious delight. Do not expect anything too challenging or profound here, although the Stanford and the Saint-Saëns are much more than lollipops. Just sit back and enjoy this disc dedicated to the chamber music for harp and violin from the repertoire of Marianne and Clara Eissler."
"I am absolutely blown away by the violin and harp recording. Lovely repertoire and fantastic playing. Marvellous sound quality and ensemble and balance between the instruments – superb!"
j'ai bien reçu votre CD est c'est un pur bonheur de l'écouter.
je ferme les yeux,je suis dans un coin de verdure, au bord d'une rivière et mes pensées s'envolent, légères...les sons de la harpe, les doigts de l'artiste qui effleurent les cordes... douceur, fluidité, élégance, enchantement.
“Your desmoiselles eissler CD was of great comfort and solace to me. Your beautiful playing and care for each note and phrase, the whole ethos of the CD, of going back in time. I had it on in the car every day! I was thinking, especially in your Hasselmans valse and the oberthür duo, this music gets routinely dismissed but there’s so much there. I just wanted to say thank you for what that CD gave me.”