Faure returns!

Posted on June 17th, 2010 by

Roy playing Chopin Op 42 at Wilton's - 27 6 10

Roy Howat rehearsing with Neil Heyde at Wiltons. May 2009


On 27th June, Roy Howat returned to  Wiltons to play Faure with me. 


Here is the pre-concert talk that I gave, and the programme. 



Pre concert talk and material for the 27th June 2010 Wiltons 

given by PSS: 

Gabriel Fauré’s piano writing might be said to begin with Chopin’s triumphant visits to Paris; there he played chamber music with Pierre Baillot, concertos under Francois Habeneck, sonatas with Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, whilst Delacroix sketched; Paris was littered with pianists as Berlioz noted to Ernst:  

 Berlioz..to Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst  Paris 7th April 1853 

 My dear Ernst, […] we were almost hoping to see you in Paris for the end of the concert season, though it’s true that, as the concerts haven’t finished yet, you are free to come any time that you like, in the certainty that you will always find yourself in the midst of a crowd of small and middling virtuosos who clutter up the place with universal scraping and strumming. This year especially, the number of pianists have been exorbitant; a crowd of grasshoppers has descended on Paris. So much so that Zimmerman said that the other day, ‘it’s terrifying-everybody these days plays the piano, and everybody plays it well.’ Too well-to which I replied: “Indeed…we are the only two left who don’t play it.” 


But is, in honesty, a line of violinists who stand today’s concert, it all begins with greatest of them all, Marie Antoinette’s musician de chamber, Giovanni Battista Viotti. It was Viotti who brought the broad Italian style of his Tartini, and his own teacher, Gaetano Pugnani to Paris, along with the maxim that they all shared-per ben suonare, bisogna ben cantare. And that singing violin is the foundation of all the music that we are going to explore today. Our concert takes Gabriel Fauré’s two sonatas, written four decades apart, and explores the sound world in which they were rooted, and the violinism and pianism which inspired them.  

 We will root the concert in two very distinctive voices, Charles de Bériot and the Brno born Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst: 

 … The most remarkable violinists seem to come from the Low Countries. …The most distinguished of these national paternity is beyond question de Bériot, husband of the late Malibran, and many a time I cannot but entertain the thought that the soul of his departed wife sang in the sweet tones of his violin. It is only Ernst the Bohemian, so rich in poetry, who can draw sounds from his instrument so sweet while bleeding. [Heinrich Heine] 


But let’s play the genealogy game. Charles de Bériot was nineteen years old when he arrived in Paris, determined to meet Viotti, then at the end of his ill-starred tenure at the Opéra. He did not consider himself to be a finished artist at the time that he importuned Viotti for lessons. However, he was brushed off, with the warning that study might destroy his uniqueness of style and technique.  It as reported that Viotti said:  

 “You have a fine style! Give yourself up to the business of perfecting it! Hear all men of talent; profit by everything, and imitate nothing.” 


 So Bériot went to study with Pierre Francois la Sales Baillot. Baillot also taught J P Maurin, who would teach Lucien Capet, who premiered the 2nd Fauré Sonata. 

 In March 1922 Fauré wrote to his wife that: 

 Mme Cortot writes that tomorrow evening in Brussels, her husband will play for Queen Elisabeth in her palace the sonata which I dedicated to her in 1917. This ill fated sonata is still only very rarely played! What a lot of time is needed for music to become known. 


 Alfred Cortot was giving that premiere with Lucian Capet; he then taught Louis Krasner (Berg’s violinist), who taught me.  

 Another of Viotti’s pupils was Napoleon’s personal violinist, Pierre Rode, for whom Beethoven wrote his last Piano/violin Sonata. Rode taught Josef Boehm, who worked with Beethoven on his late quartets, Boehm taught Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, as well as Joseph Joachim, who played this violin.  

 But it was the Belgian scions of Viotti and his school which ironically would have the biggest impact on the ‘French’ violin sound. And of course, this begins with de Bériot. De Bériot was born to an impoverished, but noble family in Louvain, and when he was offered Pierre Baillot’s place at the Paris conservatoire, refused for patriotic reasons. He taught the great Henri Vieuxtemps, born in the wool town of Verviers, about whom Schumann wrote:  

   When we listen to Henri, we can close our eyes with confidence. His playing is at once so sweet and bright, like a flower. From the first to the last sound that he draws from his instrument, Vieuxtemps holds you in a magic circle, traced round you, and you cannot find the beginning or the end. 


 And it is the quality of sonic enchantment, of ‘bright sweetness’ which sums up this school and so much of what composers such as Faure sought. One of Vieuxtemps more mysterious pupils was the child prodigy Mary Harkness, who changed her name to Mara Senkrah. She was born in New York in 1864, but briefly conquered Europe after graduating from the Brussels and Paris Conservatoires. In 1896, one writer noted that: 

 “After appearing at Weimar she was created a chamber virtuoso by the Grand Duke, and here, once more Eros got the better of Polyhymnia, and she married one Hoffman, a lawyer, in the eighties, and vanished, apparently for ever, from the concert platform. Further particulars of the circumstances of her life and artistic career, if any exist, are not forthcoming.” 


 Whilst today she is most recognisable as having had her picture taken playing Beethoven with Liszt, she is also the dedicatee of the Fauré Romance, which might be said to enshrine the Vieuxtemps-esque quality of ‘bright sweetness’ that Schumann so admired.  

 Henri Vieuxtemps’ greatest pupil was the giant Walloon, Eugène Ysaÿe, who studied with him in both Brussels and Paris. He described him as: 

 “The young violinist with the marvellous E string” 


  Ysaÿe would become the inspiration for works by the great French composers-Franck, Debussy, Chausson, and Fauré himself, who wrote his First Piano Quintet for him. He also taught Queen Elisabeth of the Belgium’s, to whom Faure dedicated his 2nd Sonata, which we will play tonight. Ysaÿe was a huge character, personally, and physically, and prone to outbursts. In 1908, the Musical News noted: 

 “With the excuse that a touch of scandal may offer welcome relief to tired readers it may be irreverently recorded her that in 1908 Ysaÿe was ordered to pay £320 to a Belgian railway Guard  for boxing his ears and thus causing deafness. However, he succeeded, on appeal, in getting the sum reduced to £60 on the grounds that the guard’s hearing was impaired before the assault was committed.” 


 Ysaÿe was also a great gourmand, much to Fauré’s irritation, who was somewhat ascetic in his tastes-this could lead to friction: 


….to Marie Fauré  

Café de l’Horloge, Brussels, 23rd march 1906 

 I finally had this rehearsal with Ysaÿe, yesterday. But so many annoyances! Marching orders were that I would lunch at their house at half past twelve, and would rehearse afterwards. However the first thing Mme Ysaÿe does it to have the silly idea of inviting in other people. On the other hand, Ysaÿe, who had got back from Antwerp at 2 o’clock in the morning, did not come down until one o’clock. Then we had a leisurely lunch, Flemish style, and time went on. I was cross and naturally had to keep smiling.   


 During the writing of his first Sonata, Fauré worked extensively with Hubert Léonard-another Belgian. Léonard was a student of the last great violinist/conductor, Habeneck, who directed the first performance of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. Habeneck was, like de Bériot, a student of Viotti’s disciple, Pierre Baillot. Léonard himself is remembered today for little else than having invented ‘fingered octaves’ [demonstrate], and it is clear from the content of the 1st Sonata, that he was maybe a little over enthusiastic about his innovation.  

 However, one of his students, another Belgian, inspired one of Fauré’s most famous violin works, his Berceuse Op 16. Like Ysaÿe, Ovide Musin was quite a character. In 1893, the Musical News reported that: 

 …his concert company was about to begin an evening entertainment at a Baptist church, and Mr Musin, arrayed in faultless evening dress, thought that he would view the audience without being seen. To accomplish his purpose he stepped behind a curtain which hung at the back of the platform. There was a splash, and the violinist found himself in three feet of water. He emerged a very wet and angry man. Mr Musin had accidentally stepped into the Baptismal font…. 


 But let’s go back to where we began. De Bériot’s wife was the great and tragic soprano, ‘La Malibran’ who died after a riding accident in Regents Park in 1836. Her sister Pauline, was the mother of the violinist Paul Viardot, to whom Fauré dedicated this most vocal of sonatas.  



Selected letters of Berlioz, Ed.Hugh Macdonald, Faber and Faber, London, 1995, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst: Virtuoso Violinist, M.W.Rowe, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2008, Celebrated Violinists past and present, A. Ehrlich, The Strad, London, 1906,  The Mirror of Music, Scholes, Musical Times, London, 1944, Gabriel Faure:a life in letters, Trans/ed Barrie Jones, Batsford, London  


Wilton’s Music Hall Sunday June 27th 2010  

 Peter Sheppard Skærved – Violin 

 Guest Artist: Roy Howat – Piano 

Charles de Bériot                             Étude de Salon 

Frédéric Chopin                     Waltz Op.42  

 Stephen Heller/ Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst                        Lied (Pensée Fugitive No. 4)          (La gaîté chant dans mon coeur –Victor Hugo)                                                        

Eugéne Ysaÿe                         Sonata No.4 Op.27 No.4                                                            Allemanda-Sarabande-Finale 

 Gabriel Fauré                         E minor Sonata No.2 Op.108  

                                                            Allegro non troppo/Andante/Allegro non troppo 


 Gabriel Fauré                         Romance Op. 28 

 Lars Bagger                           Chorale/Lutzhøfer Fragmenter/Anton is Sleeping (2008) World Premiere 

 Gabriel Fauré                         A major Sonata No. 1 Op 13  

                                                            Allegro molto/Andante/Allegro vivo/Allegro quasi presto 


Gabriel Fauré to Marie Fauré Lausanne 20 August 1903  

Apart from my ears, I feel very much better and look well. However, every day is different, and as yet, this does not indicate a complete recovery… If what I have begun here goes well I should really like to make something of it! And I always make my way so slowly. I have never been one (Possibly this increases their value) not to tinker and re-tinker with my work and linger over it ad infinitum! Without being as yet too sure about it, I think it is a sonata for violin and piano buzzing around in my head- I have sketched out several vague ideas for it. In any case I hope it will be some chamber music. 


Roy Howat is renowned as the leading Fauré pianist and scholar of our generation. He played Fauré’s Piano Quintet to great acclaim here last year, and now returns with a programme putting both Piano/Violin Sonatas  in the context of the virtuoso violin composers that influenced him.


In the meantime, here we are playing the Berceuse on his last visit! 

Roy Howat-Piano, PSS-Violin, Wiltons Music Hall 2009 

Faure-Berceuse  Op 16 Faure 

Recording courtesy of Colin Still (Optic Nerve) 

 More information to follow. Go to: https://www.sheppardskaerved.com/kreutzers-wiltons-summer-series/