His birth was registered under the name of his mother Lina Eraïm Miriam, aged 38, of Nantes, and an unnamed father. Delaborde was generally believed to be the illegitimate son of the composer and pianist Charles-Valentin Alkan and one of his high-class married pupils. Delaborde was the maiden name of Antoinette, mother of George Sand, the author and sometime lover of Alkan's friend Frédéric Chopin, and some writers have seen some significance in this. Alkan's withdrawal from public life coincided with the birth and upbringing of Delaborde. It was claimed that the pianist Isidor Philipp averred that Delaborde detested his father, but this seems doubtful as Delaborde played Alkan's music and edited his works.
He was a pupil of Alkan, Ignaz Moscheles and Adolf von Henselt. He made successful tours of England, Germany and Russia, and travelled with Henri Vieuxtemps and Henryk Wieniawski. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he escaped from France to London with his 121 parrots and cockatoos. He also shared his rooms with two apes, one of which he named Isadora, in honour of Isidor Philipp. In 1873 he was appointed professor at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Olga Samaroff (one-time wife of Leopold Stokowski) and Marie Poitevin, the first performer of César Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue in 1885. Other pupils were Carrier-Belleuse, Loire, Lefour, Haincelain and Van Barentzen.
Delaborde was a fencer, a passionate athlete, a bon vivant and a ladies' man. He also painted under the pseudonym "Miriam", and was a close friend of Édouard Manet. He was in the circle of Pauline Viardot, Ivan Turgenev and Ernest Guiraud, and became a close friend of Georges Bizet. Delaborde may have been indirectly responsible for Bizet's death, which followed a swimming competition between the two, as a result of which Bizet caught a chill. After Bizet's death, Delaborde formed an alliance with his widow Geneviève, and they were even engaged to be married, but the engagement was broken off. In 1901 he became engaged to a much younger pupil, but it also failed to result in marriage.
His compositions included a youthful opera Maître Martin, the opéra-comique La Reine dort, the overture Attila, preludes, studies and fantasies for piano (including a Grande Fantaise on Bizet's Carmen), a piano quintet, and songs. There is also a Scherzetto for chromatic harp. He also edited some of Alkan's music. Camille Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 3 was dedicated to Delaborde.
- Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954.
- Smith, Ronald (2000), Alkan, the Man, the Music, 2 vols in 1, London: Averill and Kahn.
- Société Alkan, Bulletin 4, March 1987
- Classical Archives
- Alkan Society Bulletin No. 75, April 2007
- George Sand website (in French), accessed 1 January 2013
- Smith (2002), II, 28.
- William Alexander Eddie, Charles-Valentin Alkan: His life and his music
- Classical Archives
- Minna Curtis, Bizet and his world, 1958, p. 369-70, p. 418
- Mark de Voto, Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on his music
- Free Scores. Com
- Ludwig Masters Publications
- Maurice Hinson, The Pianist's Dictionary
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