This Blog is about the music and letters of Auguste Franchomme, the great 19th century cellist-composer. Because of the research publicized on my website’s Franchomme page (http://www.louise-dubin.com/Franchomme.html), I’ve received many inquiries, and so I thought it would be good to establish a place to share some of my discoveries, and to start a forum to welcome discussions and other people’s discoveries. It’s also a place to share thoughts about researching, interpreting, performing, and recording Franchomme’s music.
Who was Auguste Franchomme?
He was the most renowned Parisian cellist of the 19th Century, who performed and composed with Fryderyk Chopin and was Chopin’s dearest French friend. In addition to being a touring soloist who often performed his own compositions, Franchomme was also (at different periods of his life) the lead cellist of King Louis-Phillippe’s Musique du Roi, section and then principal cellist of the Théâtre-Italien opera orchestra, cellist of the Alard-Franchomme chamber music society, section and then principal cellist of the Paris Conservatory’s Concert Society Orchestra, and a beloved cello teacher at the Paris Conservatory, where he taught until a few days before his death. He composed around 40 original works for cello, and he also published skilled arrangements of works by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Donizetti, Bellini, and many others. Franchomme’s original compositions bear influences from Chopin, Mozart, and the Italian bel canto composers he played in the pit, and they’re full of Viotti-inspired bowing patterns favored by Duport and other French Conservatoire string player-composers. Franchomme was praised by contemporary critics not only for his virtuosic bow technique but also for brilliant thumb position facility, pure tone, perfect intonation, and sincere performances of his own tasteful compositions. He was very occasionally criticized for not being more of a showman like his Belgian rival Servais. Servais often performed with Liszt, Franchomme often performed with Chopin…enough said!
What is the Franchomme Project?
The Franchomme Project was spawned out of my doctoral research in France, where I found some lovely forgotten works by Auguste Franchomme which have been out of print since his death, as well as some of his unpublished manuscripts, which I’m in the process of transcribing into legible parts. I collected a team of fabulous musicians — Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, Kathy Cherbas, Julia Bruskin, Hélène Jeanney, and Andrea Lam– and with the help of our multiple Grammy-winning producer Steve Epstein we finished the recording sessions for our album on May 13th, 2014! It features never-recorded works by Auguste Franchomme, and will be released in 2015.
I receive frequent inquiries about how to find Franchomme’s compositions. To make this a bit easier, I’ve just begun work on this upcoming publication by Dover (the release date on Amazon is wrong, but it should be out in 2015 at latest)… I’m selecting and introducing some of my favorite out-of-print cello-piano works by Franchomme. I’ll also self-publish my quartet transcriptions and maybe some cello duos as soon as I have time. Women In French will soon publish my article about the musical relations between Charlotte Rothschild, Chopin and Franchomme, which I lectured about at ASU and NYU. In addition to performing (probably premiering) Franchomme’s works in New York, Chicago, Bloomington, Charleston, and other cities, I’ve also given lecture-recitals in New York, Michigan and TX, and an interactive lecture-recital/cello duet/quartet reading at University of Connecticut. Please get in touch if you’re interested to set up a concert, a lecture, or a combination!
Why is so much of Franchomme’s music forgotten today? I’m a fan, so it’s hard for me to understand this, but there are a few reasons I can guess. One is that they’re almost all written for cello, so that puts him into a cello niche—but that’s not really enough of an explanation. Another reason is that most of his pieces were written to showcase his legendary technique at his own concerts, (delegating the piano to an accompanimental role). They are difficult for cellists to play—but at the same time, they tend to be short, tasteful and not in-your-face passionate or flashy, so they might not inspire the kind of standing ovations performers want when they put hours of practice into a piece (think a Chopin Nocturne versus a Liszt composition). A third reason, sort of in line with the second, is that his pieces are generally not attempting to make a definitive pronouncement about the human condition, but rather strive for something subtler and sometimes more introverted. Many pieces are full of spritely, buoyant lightness (exemplified by suave facility required by the above-mentioned string crossing patterns), gentle humor, long singing lines; others are melancholic or reflective (an occasional marking is “Religioso”). His works leave me with the impression of elegance, sincerity and reserved classiness. His idols were Mozart and Chopin. His priorities as a musician seemed to have been in line with his personality (as much as I can glean from letters and contemporary accounts- but more about this in another entry!)