The French pianist, Céliny Chailley-Richez, came of a musical family. She was born in the school of her father, Emile Richez. Her mother, Léonie, was the sister of Félix Galle, conductor at the Théâtre des Variétés, whose daughter Yvonne Gall, was a singer in the Paris Opera. The family had numerous other musical connections. Céliny's mother, recognizing her musical potential enrolled her at the age of 10 in the Lille Conservatory where she studied piano. Her success was such that she was admitted to the Paris Conservatory a year later, her mother leaving her husband in Lille in order to support and supervise her daughter's musical advancement. In July 1898 at the age of 14, Céliny was awarded First Prize for Piano.
As the 20th century opened, Céliny Chailley-Richez remained at the Conservatory, supported by a 3-year bursary of 1,000 Francs per year from the City of Lille. She also gave music lessons to the children of wealthy and well-connected families. In 1908, escaping the watchful eye of her mother, Céliny met Marcel Chailley, a young violinist, at one of the chamber music soirées which were a feature of Paris musical life at that time. Charmed by his elegance and music sensibilities, Céliny was to become his wife on April 21, 1908. Marcel Chailley, at left early 1930's, despite being the only musician in his family, was a brilliant violinist, recognized at an early age by Camille Saint-Saëns who often invited him to perform his latest compositions. He was a familiar contributor to all the main Paris orchestras and chamber music groups of the time. Sharing a common training in, and a passion for chamber music, the young couple were to be seen and heard at concerts and musical soirées, performing alone, with the Pasdeloup, Colonne and Lamoureux orchestras, and with their own Quartet. In combination with the Geloso Quartet, of which Pierre Monteux was the violist, they formed an Octet which performed George Enescu's Octet Op 7 and Quartet in D Major Op 16 under the direction of the composer in a programme entitled "Festival Georges Enesco".
Just before the outbreak of World War I, Céliny and Marcel purchased a property in the village of Seignelay which was to become their country home to which they would retire regularly during summers, together with their children, and later grandchildren. Here too they would being their students, among whom were Ivry Gitlis, Lola Bobesco and Denise Soriano, making music "en famille" on summer evenings following studies during the day. Céliny and Marcel had pursued joint careers as teachers and performers until 1926, when Marcel's delicate state of health forced him to give up recitals and dedicate himself to teaching, becoming with the encouragement of Jacques Thibaud, professor at the Ecole Normale de Musique. Céliny was, meanwhile, beginning to work more closely with George Enescu. They gave a number of concerts together, beginning in April 1932 with L.v. Beethoven's complete Violin and Piano Sonatas as well as musical Soirées in private homes. The Chailley-Richez home had witnessed visits of many illustrious musicians of the time, not only violinists and pianists. The list included such as Igor Stravinsky, Lola Bobesco, Christian Ferras, and many others too numerous to mention. But when Céliny and G. Enescu worked together, it was she who would visit him in his celebrated ground-floor apartments at 26 rue de Clichy, with the Pleyel which is now in the George Enesco Museum in Bucharest. Here she made extensive notes on the scores, notably those of Bach, recording in the minutest detail the suggestions and indications of her "grand ami".
With the death of her husband from pleurisy on June 10, 1936, Céliny Chailley-Richez devoted herself almost entirely to her collaboration with "The Master", who was by then also suffering ill-health. Her accomplice was Princess Maruska (Maria) Cantacuzino. George Enescu was to marry her in December 1937. Céliny and the Princess remained on friendly terms after G. Enescu's death, and regularly exchanged New Year greetings. Later Céliny would bequeath her scores annotated with G. Enescu's comments and directions to the new Enesco Museum in the Princess's palace in Bucharest. Céliny had always enjoyed touring abroad, and had made several concert tours with the Chailley Quartet (Brazil 1918/1919, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Britain in 1920/1925), and she eagerly accepted G. Enescu's offer to accompany him on a concert tour of Italy. In retrospect it seems strange to embark on a concert tour a month after the outbreak of war, and indeed, the tour was ill-fated. Her letters home from Turin spoke of her initial exaltation, turning so swiftly to disappointment. After their first concert, G. Enescu fell ill and the rest of the tour had to be cancelled. G. Enescu and Maruska returned to Romania. Italy and Romania would in any case, enter the war.
Burying herself for a while in the country, Céliny Chailley-Richez y returned to Paris where she successfully gave several concerts, also teaching at the Conservatoire for a year. She then formed a partnership with Denyse Favareille, a wealthy landowner, music-lover and amateur pianist. In spite of the war they managed to assemble a Quintet, entirely female, giving nine concerts between 1941 and 1943 - of which Céliny carefully retained the relevant programmes and press cuttings. In 1943 the two friends founded and generously endowed the "Prix Favareille-Chailley-Richez" to encourage new composers. After the War, G. Enescu returned to Paris. Céliny and G. Enescu were able to resume their concert activities, giving, for example, a Recital of Sonatas (Bach, Schumann, G. Enescu) on October 24, 1947, in the Salle Gaveau. In 1949 they also collaborated in a recording of G. Enescu's Sonata Number Three "dans le caractère populaire roumain". Despite G. Enescu's growing weakness, the recording, issued on three 78 rpm discs, was nevertheless distinguished with a prize by the Académie du disque Charles Cros.
Céliny Chailley-Richez and her friend Denyse Favareille persuaded G. Enescu - and Decca, then just launching the "new" long-play records - to embark on what was in fact a huge project given G. Enescu's health: the complete concertos by Bach for keyboard(s) and orchestra. G. Enescu gave his written agreement late 1950, but it was not until 1953 that the recordings took place in Decca's Paris studios. The solo pianist was, of course, Céliny herself, joined for the concertos for 2 and 3 pianos by Jean-Jacques Painchaud, and Françoise Le Gonidec, one of her old students. Yvette Grimaud played the fourth piano in 1065. Included in the series were two triple concertos, BWV 1044 and 1057, together with the 5th Brandenburg. Additional soloists were Jean-Pierre Rampal and his pupil Gaston Crunelle, flutes, with violinist Christian Ferras, pupil of Yehudi Menuhin and whose father had studied with Marcel Chailley. With the addition, to fill up the last LP side, of Bach's Italian Concerto BWV 971 for keyboard solo performed by Céliny herself, the grand project was completed and joined the ranks of early long-play records, hanboxed and annotated. G. Enescu however barely lived to see the completion of publication; he passed away on May 4, 1955.
In June 1955, Céliny Chailley-Richez published a record of her last visit with G. Enescu in Musique et radio (Paris), and from 1959 to 1965 corresponded regularly with Romeo Draghaci regarding the creation of the Enesco Museum in G. Enescu's and Maruska's old Residence in Bucharest, to which Céliny bequeathed all the scores which she had annotated with G. Enescu's directions and comments. She also participated in the foundation in Paris of "Les Amis d'Enesco", which organized its first concert in May 1971.