Look Ma, no endpin! Franchomme versus Servais

©2015 Do not copy, publish or reproduce without the written permission of Louise Dubin

In the engraving of the Alard-Franchomme Quartet at the head of this blog, we can see that Franchomme is playing his Duport Strad (more info about it in my earlier post) using a basically modern bow grip (just a bit higher on the stick) and NO endpin. He held the cello off the floor with his calves, which given the difficulty of his compositions is a remarkable thing.  According his late descendant, M. Laurent Pénicaud, Franchomme refused to use an endpin because he thought it made the cello sound unnatural.  He also refused to let his students at the Conservatoire use them, even as they were becoming widely adapted elsewhere due to the influence of the Belgian cellist Servais.  I’ve included a never-published photo (from the collection of his descendants) of an elder Franchomme sitting with his endpin-less cello in the forthcoming Dover Selected Works for Cello and Piano by Auguste Franchomme.

Servais was a large man with a large tone who played a large 1701 Strad with its own fascinating history. And apparently, Servais was a man who liked to eat.  Some have theorized that for Servais, the endpin may have become a real necessity for him to navigate the cello around his rotund belly! And, it may have enabled Servais to come across as more outgoing performer. Contemporary music critic Henri Blanchard, in his desire to differentiate Franchomme from Servais, called Franchomme elegantly precise but cold, and Servais passionate but out of tune:

Franchomme can be called the king of the French school of cello playing….he plays the cello in a manner that is elegant, easy, clean, but without inspiration or passion. His style is pure, but cold…[in contrast] Servais, head of the Belgian school… has a generous manner; he sings with expression on his instrument, but his intonation is not very accurate, a pretty common fault of cellists. Franchomme peut passer a juste titre pour le chef, pour le roi de l’ecole francais…[il] joue de violoncelle d’une maniere elegante, facile, nette, mais sans inspiration, sans passion. Son style est pur, mais froid…. Servais, chef de l’ecole belge avec Batta… il ya a de l’ampleur dans sa maniere; il chante avec expression sur son instrument, mais son intonation n’est pas tres sure, defaut assez ordinaire aux violoncellistes.”

Revue et Gazette Musicale, 1842

Probably out of respect for Franchomme’s opinion, endpins were not used at the Paris Conservatoire until 1884. It is probably no coincidence that 1884 happens to be the year when Franchomme died, and his student Jules Delsart took over the cello class there. (Delsart is most remembered today for his cello transcription of Franck’s violin sonata in A major). Even after the endpin became officially accepted at the Conservatoire, other illustrious cellists in the late 1800s refused to play with one, including Piatti and Grutzmacher.

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