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Who was the guiding force in their creative collaborations, Franchomme or Chopin? Part One

Because of this blog, I receive some interesting email queries. One that has come up a few times is the cross-influence of Chopin and Franchomme—to what extent, and in what direction?

For almost 2 centuries, many have assumed that Chopin was the guiding force. When Franchomme’s early collaboration with Chopin, the Grand Duo Concertant sur “Robert le Diable” de Meyerbeer was published in 1833, Schumann wrote that he doubted Franchomme had much contribution apart from putting his name to the title page! My examination of the manuscripts at the BnF disproves Schumann’s snide statement; but more on that another time.

In my Introduction to the freshly published Selected Works for Cello & Piano by Auguste Franchomme (May 2017, Dover Publications: click here for Table of Contents), I discuss some examples of how Franchomme may have influenced Chopin (and vice versa). I’ve posted some excerpts below. After an email discussion this week with my friend, the great pianist and pedagogue Sara Davis Buechner, I invited her to share her own observations on the same topic, from a pianist’s perspective. Stay tuned for her fascinating post next week!

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From my Introduction:

“After Chopin’s death, Franchomme sorted through the hundreds of pages of manuscripts that Chopin left to him and prepared several posthumous works for publication, including the Mazurka, Op. 68, No. 4. He contributed to the complete Chopin editions prepared by Chopin’s pupils Tellefsen (1860) and Mikuli (1880), and helped edit the Breitkopf & Härtel Chopin edition (1878–1880). All of this exposure to Chopin’s music must have inspired Franchomme’s 50-odd arrangements of his solo piano works for various cello combinations (many unpublished), including the Nocturnes, Op. 55, and the 1870 arrangements included in this volume. Chopin was also the direct inspiration for some of Franchomme’s original compositions, including his gorgeous Trois Nocturnes, Op. 15 (1839, included here) …The nocturnes of both Chopin and Franchomme feature aria-like melodies over broken chords, and usually have a ternary structure. Franchomme was the first composer of nocturnes for cello in this form…”

“Franchomme also influenced the works that Chopin composed for the cello, both directly and perhaps indirectly. We know that Franchomme performed Chopin’s cello works with him, and suggested changes to his Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, Op. 3 that Chopin incorporated into subsequent published editions. Chopin played his Op. 65 with Franchomme privately before completing it, and likely incorporated Franchomme’s suggestions into the final publication. In addition, Franchomme’s decade of performances in the Théâtre-Italien certainly inspired his own music, and may also have contributed to Chopin’s fascination with the Italian aria, and his incorporation of this vocal style into his solo piano writing…”

Cross-influence between Chopin and Franchomme in fingerings, phrasing, and style- this is where it gets technical, y’all!

“…Franchomme’s years of playing with singers clearly informed some of his fingerings.”  For example, he “…relished slides under a slur on one string…which are rather out of style today and which even Duport had advised against except as a last resort, to avoid a ‘disagreeable sound.’” Despite Duport’s warning, Franchomme executed these slides with great taste. In the words of Henri Blanchard, “suave et pur, élégant et mélodique” (Revue et gazette musicale de Paris, April 25, 1841). Vocal qualities in Chopin’s music are mentioned by Charles Rosen, who wrote in The Romantic Generation that Chopin “composed with a sense of melody and a way of sustaining the melodic line derived directly from Italian Opera.” Sara Davis Buechner discusses this in more detail, as you will see in her upcoming post!

“An even more remarkable fingering choice is Franchomme’s use of the same playing finger on several successive descending notes in a row. The most extreme example I have found occurs in his Fantasie sur Souvenirs de ‘Richard Coeur de Lion’ de Grétry, Op. 27, where he uses the third finger on a chromatic descent of 13 notes, probably a world record for a cello composition up to that point! Shorter examples of this unique fingering are found throughout Franchomme’s compositions (in this volume, see the three 4th fingers in the opening of his arrangement of Chopin’s Prelude, Op. 28, No. 20, four consecutive notes played with the 4th finger at the end of the introduction of his Op. 23, and the five consecutive descending third fingers in the opening Largo of his Op. 34). In Chopin’s own fingerings printed in his original publications, he often indicated using the same finger on consecutive notes in a melodic passage, for a supple cantabile led by the arm. Watching Chopin’s technique may have inspired these fingerings in Franchomme’s compositions. Or, perhaps Franchomme’s decade at the Théâtre-Italien contributed to Chopin’s own fascination with Italian arias and his incorporation of vocal techniques into his piano fingerings! (Interestingly, a comparison of Chopin’s fingerings to those indicated by Franchomme in his Chopin transcriptions reveals only that they both used this type of repeated fingering, but not in the same places.)”

“Franchomme’s works are full of… long slurs over many notes…[for example, his]  transcription of Chopin’s ‘Cello’ Etude in C Sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7, (p. 178) is as faithful as possible to Chopin’s long phrase markings, within the parameters of what is possible on the cello….In combination with Franchomme’s tendency to use thumb and harmonic fingerings in melodic lines, these clues suggest a tendency toward faster tempos, and a style of performance favoring elegance over massive sound production,” which seems also to have described Chopin’s playing.

Franchomme Birthday Week Video #4 Salle Gaveau, Paris

Chopin Prelude Op. 28, No. 9 arranged by Auguste Franchomme for 4 cellists, Transcribed from unpublished manuscript by Louise Dubin.  Performers: Louise Dubin, Raphael Pidoux, Gauthier Boutin, Philippe Muller, cellists
Salle Gaveau, December 2nd, 2016 “La Nuit du Violoncelle,” gala concert of VioloncellenSeine, biannual convention of the French Cello Society. World premiere studio recording on The Franchomme Project album: http://www.louise-dubin.com/shop