Eric Satie,
Isaac Bashevis Singer,
the Princesse de Polignac,
and the Sewing Machine

 

   


 

Sylvia Kahan,  Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, Eastman Studies in Music. University of Rochester Press, 2003.

Michael de Cossart, Food of Love: Princesse Edmond de Polignac (1865-1943) and her Salon, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

 

Sylvia Kahan,  Music's Modern Muse: A Life of Winnaretta Singer, Princesse de Polignac, Eastman Studies in Music, University of Rochester Press, 2003.

Michael de Cossart, Food of Love: Princesse Edmond de Polignac (1865-1943) and her Salon, Hamish Hamilton, 1978.

 

During the great days of early twentieth century Paris, one of the leading patrons of the arts was the Princesse de Polignac, who commissioned major works by Stravinsky, Satie, Poulenc, and others. She was the widow of Prince Edmond of Polignac and the ex-wife of Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard -- though neither marriage had been consummated. The first marriage, arranged by the bride’s mother against Winnaretta's will, had been annulled, but the gay Prince Edmond de Polignac fortunately had no desire for consummation. (Edmond was the son of the ultra-royalist Auguste Jules Armand Polignac, whose attempted coup d'etat instigated the 1830 revolution).

This all sounds ever so sophisticated, decadent, and continental, but the Princesse was born Winnaretta Singer -- one of the twenty-two children (by five wives) of Isaac Merritt Singer, the former Shakespearean actor and jack-of-all-trades who (with a little help from Elias Howe) had invented the Singer Sewing Machine. In 1875 Singer died and left fifteen million dollars to be divided among his wives and children (or most of them, anyway). In 1875 that was real money, and Winnaretta was able to buy her way into high society.

Princess Winnaretta obviously had no children, but when her sister Isabelle-Blanche committed suicide, Winnaretta took charge of her daughter, Marguerite Séverine Philippine Decazes de Glücksbierg, and Margeurite’s 1910 marriage to Prince Jean Amédée Marie Anatole de Broglie (also reputed to be gay) produced three more princesses. After the Prince's death,  Marguerite then married a cousin of Winston Churchill, taking the name of Daisy Fellowes;  Daisy was an author and, as a patron of Else Schiaparelli, had an important influence on the world of fashion.

Much later, still another Singer heir, Anne Labouisse Farnsworth Peretz, (whose exact relationship to Singer I’ve been unable to ascertain) loyally funded Martin Peretz’s New Republic until all her money had been used up and he had to sell the magazine. To me this sounds a bit like coming down in the world.

Conclusions:

1. The novelist is known to us as "Isaac Bashevis Singer" because before him there already had been a famous American named Isaac Singer..

2. Parvenu princesses from rich but disreputable families often perform as well as real princesses. I’m presently reading several biographies of Erik Satie, one of my favorite composers and eccentrics, and will remain forever grateful to Winnaretta.

3. Well-born people have more names than we do.

4. And really -- what kind of hillbilly name is Winnaretta, anyway?

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NOTE

[i] The first Isaac Singer was only somewhat Jewish. Ultimately he was baptized as a Christian, probably for purposes of marriage; his German biography rather vaguely says that Isaac’s father “came from a Jewish family named Reisinger in Saxony”.

LINKS

Winnaretta_Singer

Winnaretta Singer the bull dyke

Daisy_Fellowes

Isaac Singer and music
Photo of Winnaretta. Isaac Singer had a beautiful voice and made sure that all of his children had musical educations; he even favored musicians when hiring for his company. Promoting his sewing machine he commissioned songs and put out trading cards of opera singers and of songbirds. (The name "Singer" sometimes is a German surname, but apparently it had not been the family's name in Germany).

Isaac Singer
Isaac's widow Isabella (Winnaretta's mother) was Bartholdi's model for the Statue of Liberty. Lots of interesting details.

Isaac_Merritt_Singer
Wikapedia -- many links.

German biography of Singer

Patent lawsuit with Howe over the sewing machine


More Isaac Singer info
Isaac's early life as a mechinist, etc., in Newark near Rochester.

 

Appendix

Besides the Princess of Polignac herself (and a yacht in Monaco and a room in the old Singer mansion in the UK, both presumably named for her), the following are all the Winnarettas I could find  via Google. By the evidence, Winnaretta is a British name. All of them might have been named after Winnaretta Singer, however.

Winnaretta (McNamara) Howe, gave birth to daughter, 1907, NB, Canada.

Helma Winnaretta Randel, b. 1913, UK.

Winnaretta Raven, b. 1917, UK.

Chrixtena Winnaretta Gillespie, married 1906, BC, Canada.

Winna R Mitchelmore?, b. 1914, NZ.

 

I am emersonj at gmail dot com.

Original materials copyright John J Emerson

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