Auguste Franchomme: Selected Works for Cello and Piano
Introduction by Louise Dubin
Published 2017, 189 pp
ISBN 978 0 486 49368 8
Auguste Franchomme (1808-1884) was a famous French soloist, orchestral and chamber player, pedagogue and, notably, composer. He wrote some fifty works for the instrument though he wrote a plethora of works for other combinations too. His best-remembered friendship and musical collaboration is with Chopin but that’s far from the main reason to remember him, biographically interesting though their friendship was. He moved in other circles too, and knew Mendelssohn, Liszt and Rossini.
This selection of his works for cello and piano, produced for the Dover Performance Edition, has been introduced by Louise Dubin whose excellent recording of Franchomme’s music I reviewed here some while back. The title page incorrectly states that Dubin transcribed these works (the cover itself is more scrupulous) but they’re actually presented in facsimiles from early editions, so her role has been to select and introduce, both of which roles have been expertly done, needless to say.
These early editions of Franchomme’s works provide cellists with valuable literature, often long out of print, and reveal stylistic particularities of French cellistic performance style. Additionally, his editorial markings provide specific evidence of his intentions. You won’t find the Caprices, Op.7 or the Etudes, Op.25 as they are in print and can be obtained quite easily elsewhere. Instead we have an astute selection that brings together the varied oeuvre of the man whom Berlioz described as ‘the best cellist in the capital’ and who, by all accounts, was a performer of unruffled restraint – the very opposite of the choleric virtuoso, though he himself was clearly a technician of the highest qualities. His experience as an orchestral player in Parisian opera companies held him in good stead when it came to the composition of his fantasies so beloved of nineteenth-century composer-executants. Indeed there is something violinistic about Franchomme’s compositions, a feeling reinforced by Dubin’s examination of his bowings, that reveal an indebtedness to those of a titan such as Viotti, perhaps gleaned via Viotti’s collaborator, Jean-Louis Duport, with whose technical treatises we know Franchomme was very familiar.
Louise Dubin’s introduction, which also includes a previously unpublished photograph of Franchomme as well as a familiar one and the engraved plate of the Alard-Franchomme String Quartet, is especially revealing when it comes to Franchomme’s specific fingerings, the use of the thumb, full bowing and many other technical details that should prove very helpful to cellists venturing on this repertoire.
Publishing costs at the Bibliothèque National de France proving exorbitant, material was sourced from the collections at Peabody, Harvard, the University of Melbourne and the Royal Library of Denmark, largely from the first German editions which followed the French originals. There are no differences between these editions, other than a publication a year apart. They include the same fingerings and bowings as in the French editions.
Some of the print is stronger than others. For example, some of the stave lines are weak in a few cases – the Op.25 Trois Airs Nationaux Étrangers, Variés seems to have been tricky to reproduce in the cello-and-piano part but the separate cello part is excellent. A degree of squinting may be in order on a very few occasions.
There are only one or two tiny cavils about the introduction. It’s ‘Scottish estates’ surely, not ‘Scotland estates’ and I happen to be allergic to the phrase ‘this guy’ in the context of a letter from Franchomme about Chopin. It makes it sound less like Paris in the nineteenth-century than Capone’s Chicago. But this is trivial stuff set against the wealth of revealing detail that supports the facsimiles. The point is to encourage greater appreciation and performance of Franchomme’s music and this varied selection, which includes works by Chopin that Franchomme arranged for cello, is an admirable guide to performance and practice.