COURTAUX, AMANDA (1856-1941)

Mademoiselle Marie Mathilde (Amanda) Courtaux (1856-1941), a highly gifted pianist, performer, composer and music teacher in Paris, France made a remarkable change in her lifestyle when, at the age of 62, she traveled to Sinsinawa, Wisconsin in 1921 to enter religious life as a Dominican Sister. She had cared for her invalid mother and sister for a number of years, and freed from that responsibility, she was then able to follow her own vocation as a vowed religious. On January 1, 1922, she became Sister Mary Amanda, O.P. and made her profession before Mother Samuel Coughlin and the St. Clara community.
Sister Mary Amanda continued to teach piano for 18 more years with exceptional success at St. Clara College, Sinsinawa, Wisconsin; Edgewood Academy, Madison, Wisconsin; Rosary College, River Forest, Illinois; and Villa Fougeres in Fribourg, Switzerland where she originally met the Dominican Sisters. Having spent the day teaching piano to the novices and pupils at St. Clara Academy, Sister Amanda died April 21, 1941 at the age of 82. Devotion to her musical art in which she was so highly gifted, was her way of thanking God for her long life and years of service to the congregation.
Marie Mathilde Courtaux was born October 27, 1856 in Port Louis, Mauritius Island (a British colony), when her father, Endore Courtaux, was stationed there as a representative of the French government. Her mother, Amanda Riviere, was a school teacher.
When the family returned to France, Mathilde received all her education in Paris at the gymnasium and private music school of Mademoiselle Fleur. She received her Licencie from the Paris Conservatory of Music in 1879 after four years of study with M. Rety and M. LeCouppey. At the age of 19, Mlle. Courtaux received the Third Medal for the Study of Piano at the Conservatory and the following year was awarded the First Medal, the highest award of the institution.
Even before she finished the Conservatory, Mlle. Courtaux began teaching piano and to compose music which drew the attention of a publisher, M. E. Costil, who in 1905 and 1906 published her "Marche Militaire" for piano 6-hands; "Ave Maria" for voice and piano; "Priere De Sainte Cecile" for violin, cello, harp and organ; and "Priere De Sainte Cecile, Piano Edition" in 1906.
"Priere" was Mlle. Courtaux's crowning compositional achievement. She loved to teach and perform it all her life. This demure five-foot, blue-eyed, dignified French woman composer was at the height of her creativity at age 51 when she was awarded the rosette of Officer of the Academy of Fine Arts. It was presented to her by the Minister of Public Instruction of the Fine Arts and Culture of the Republic of France, a most auspicious decoration by the French Government.
During World War I, Mlle. went to teach in Fribourg, Switzerland and lived with the Sinsinawa Dominicans at Villa des Fougeres, a residence for college students during their Junior Year Abroad and Sisters attending the University. Caught by their charism and lifestyle, she requested to become one of them. This thoroughly French woman met the challenges of American ways, cold winters, and a new language. She persevered through her zeal, love and affection toward the Sisters and students to whom she brought her artistic musical gifts. She was exacting and demanding as a teacher, but also expected the same of herself, practicing the piano daily.
Sister Amanda had a phenomenal memory and could play from a repertoire of some seventy compositions. On board the oceanliner Transatlantic, while traveling to Fribourg in 1929, she performed piano compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Godard and her own "Priere."
A file of unpublished manuscripts in the Sinsinawa Dominican archives has now been brought to life through the editorial efforts of Anita Smisek, OP, a member of her community.