Tag Archives: Franchomme

Franchomme’s famous Stradivarius cello, how he acquired it, and what compositions were (and weren’t) played on it

I’ve just submitted my Introduction to the forthcoming Dover publication of selected works for cello and piano by Auguste Franchomme. There were some great stories that I just couldn’t fit within their word limit. Here are some, to give you an idea of what else you can read when the score comes out.  I’ll post another one very soon.

One of the 2 images heading this blog is the only known depiction of Franchomme performing-  a plate from an 1877 book written by one of his former cello students, Antoine Vidal,*  showing an older Franchomme performing with the Alard Quartet. Violinist Jean-Delphin Alard (1815-1888) was, like Franchomme, the son of an amateur musician father, and like Franchomme, taught at the Conservatoire. In 1847, Alard had begun a new chamber music society, the Société Alard and Franchomme—partly to phase out his previous group’s cellist, Pierre-Alexandre Chevillard.  Unlike Alard, Chevillard wanted to perform Beethoven’s late string quartets, and proceeded to do so in his next group. Alard’s new group with Franchomme performed sonatas, trios, quartets, and quintets of Mozart, Haydn, and (early-middle period) Beethoven.  The late Beethoven string quartets were avoided, as were his final two cello sonatas. The society lasted, with many guest artists around the core of Alard and Franchomme, until 1870, by which time it had developed into the most prestigious chamber music series in Paris (there were at least four others in 1864).  The other musicians in the engraving sitting to Franchomme’s left are violist Desire Trombetta and violinist Jules Garcin.

Alard happened to be the son-in-law of Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, the renowned Parisian luthier and instrument dealer who helped Franchomme acquire the 1711 Duport Stradivarius cello, which he is playing in the engraving. (Vuillaume also made a small cello for René Franchomme, Auguste’s son, who was already a fine cellist and budding composer when he died at age 18). The Duport Strad had been owned and played by both of the Duport brothers, and Anner Bylsma calls it the “greatest cello ever made.” Early on, it came close to serious damage in the Tuileries Palace, where Jean-Louis Duport was performing as solo cellist of the court of the Emperor. Napoleon seized the cello from Duport, put it between his legs (dangerously close to his sharp riding spurs!) and said, “How the devil do you play this thing, Duport?” Fortunately, Duport cried out “Sir!” in such a dire tone that Napoleon stopped his jesting immediately and returned the cello to Duport.

The Duport Strad was handed down to Jean-Louis Duport’s son, who played the instrument as the principal cellist of Lyon for a few years before establishing himself in Paris as a piano builder. At first, he had no interest in selling the cello. Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume had told Franchomme, “vous êtes le successeur de Duport; vous seul devriez posséder son instrument.” In 1842, after some cajoling by Vuillaume, the cello was finally put on the market for an unprecedented price: either 22,000 francs (according to Franchomme’s descendants) or 25,000 francs (according to other sources). Franchomme struggled to come up with this amount, but somehow bought it the following year, possibly with the help of his wife’s dowry, which, according to this linked footnote, was large.

Franchomme’s daughter Cécile sold it to Hill and Sons in London in 1892 for 40,000 francs. Rostropovich played on this incredible cello for many years, and in fact he used it to record both Chopin’s Op. 65 Sonata and his Introduction and Polonaise Brillante. Franchomme performed both pieces with Chopin, using the same cello. Despite rumors that it was sold in 2008 for 20 million dollars to Japan’s Nippon Foundation, it is apparently still in the hands of Rostropovich’s descendants. http://www.allthingsstrings.com/layout/set/print/News/News/Where-is-the-Duport-Strad

*Plate LXXXVIII, “Musique de chambre en 1878,” Volume 3 of Antoine Vidal’s Les Instruments A Archet: Les feseurs, Les Joueurs D’Instrument, avec planche gravées a l’eau-forte par Frederic Hillemacher. Paris: Imprimerie de J. Claye, 1877-78. Reproduced with permission of Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University.

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

Saeunn plays Franchomme!

The Dog Days of August are, alas, at an end, but the Blog Days of Auguste is just warming up!  Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, whose fantastic cello playing is prominently featured on my upcoming Franchomme Project album, reports having just performed Franchomme’s transcription of the Ballade for Piano at Sonoma State University in CA, where she’s in residency this year.  She played Chopin’s sonata for cello and piano in the same program.  She emailed me:

I performed a lecture-recital featuring both Chopin and Franchomme today in Sonoma State University´s beautiful new Schroeder Hall, for a class centered around the year 1848. I pointed out to the students that Chopin´s last concert took place in Salle Pleyel just days before the revolution in February of that year and among the pieces played were the last three movements from Chopin’s cello sonata, performed with its dedicatee, Auguste Franchomme!  

The third movement of the sonata requires the cellist to carry a soaring line, each note more important than the next, holding a world of its own in one little black dot on the page.  By paring down the musical material to its bare bones, a spotlight shines on the expressivity of the bow.

It was interesting to me that I found my Hill bow was too heavy for this movement.  I use it for almost everything these days as it is more consistent in sound and a little heavier, but for this piece I found I wasn’t able to carve out the more subtle nuances in the quieter sections and used my Lamy (French, OF COURSE!) which made a huge difference.  Each note requires such a specific direction and shape to make the line come alive and sing through the phrase that I have to deduce that Franchomme must have been a complete master of his bow arm. I also played Franchomme’s cello-piano arrangement of the Ballade op. 38 that you sent me, just as good as Franchomme’s cello quartet arrangement of this piece that we’ve performed and recorded. What an expressive thumb position Franchomme must have had–I regret that there aren’t recordings of his own performances!