Anneke Scott and Steven Devine return to Resonus with a programme of works for horn that chart a fascinating and pivotal period in the development of the instrument and its repertoire in nineteenth-century France. This album, which celebrates 200 years since the birth of Charles Gounod, features a selection of works composed for both natural and piston horns by Gounod, Meifred and Gallay, as well as a Gounod arrangement by François Bremond, all performed on original period horns and a grand piano by Érard.
Le cor mélodique: Mélodies, vocalises et chants
The debate about the relative merits of the natural horn and the nascent valved horn was particularly fractious in nineteenth-century France. The new valved instrument was viewed in some circles as having a deficient tone in comparison to the highly esteemed natural horn. Berlioz, in 1842, just prior to his visit to Germany that was to change his perspective, believed that ‘one day’ the cor à pistons (the valved horn) would ‘offer great benefits in the field of instrumentation [...] but I am firmly convinced that one should never consider it an improvement on the horn, from which it differs in quality of tone.’ It is an oft repeated observation on that the Paris Conservatoire maintained the tradition of teaching the cor simple (natural or hand-horn) into the early years of the twentieth century. François Brémond (1844–1925), the professor of horn who eventually submitted to the need for change, viewed the valve horn ‘as a necessary evil’.
Resistance to the cor à pistons was often expressed with regard to the inability of the piston horn to replicate the beautiful silvery tone inherent in the natural horn. Valve horn players were warned against using the valves constantly and thus losing the opportunity to incorporate aspects of hand-horn stopping technique. The timbral differences of the natural horn, with its open and stopped notes, has been viewed as part of its unique expressive range. These effects were something to be championed, a desirable aspect of the instrument’s ‘melancholic nature’, rather than something to suppress or hide.
Valve technology was first introduced to the country by Gaspare Spontini (1774–1851). Spontini had arrived in Paris from Marseille in 1803. He brought with him letters of recommendation from bankers and merchants in Marseille that helped secure his acceptance into influential Parisian circles. Ini ally these connections yielded advantageous positions teaching singing to the daughters of notable members of the Napoleonic court but Spontini, benefitting from Napoleon’s love of Italian music, swiftly rose to the position of Compositeur par culier de la chambre de l’Impératrice (Composer for the Empress Josephine) and in 1810 he was made Directeur de la musique de l’opéra buffa at the Théâtre de l’Impératrice. However, his association with the Napoleonic household also put him in a precarious position come the Bourbon Restoration.
In Germany Spontini was introduced to the new varieties of valved brass instrument. He arrived in Berlin in 1820; the valve had only just been patented in Prussia two years earlier by Heinrich Stölzel (1777–1844) and Friedrich Blühmel (1777–1845) in 1818. Prior to this, in 1814, Stölzel had written to King Friedrich Wilhelm reporting his invention. Spontini was well versed in writing for brass instruments, particularly the horn. During his time in Paris he came into contact with Frédéric Duvernoy (1765–1838), a favourite of Empress Josephine, who frequently performed duets with the harpist François-Joseph Naderman, (1781–1835) at her soirées. Spontini composed the obbligato horn part of the aria "Toi que j’implore” in his 1807 opera La Vestale for Duvernoy, the horn player receiving higher billing than the singers and dancers, with the composer not being mentioned at all. One of Spontini’s first acts upon arrival in Berlin was to perform the Preussicher Volksgesang, a nationalistic song composed two years earlier for the King’s birthday. This work draws heavily upon Spontini’s experience of the large scale civic music that had been popular in post-Revolutionary France. The work is scored for huge forces: a 130 strong choir, one hundred strings, fifty trumpets, and twenty wind instruments including clarinets in F, basset horns, contrabassoons, bass-horn and ophicleide.
Recognising the potential of these new valved brass instruments, from 1823 until 1831, Spontini began to send instruments to his colleagues and supporters in Paris. It has been suggested that Spontini was keen to return to Paris and that informing his old colleagues of this new technology may have been an attempt to ensure a hero’s welcome. Spontini chose the recipients carefully: “M. Barrillon,” a previously unidentified character but likely to be François-Sophie-Alexandre Barrillon (1801–1871), the son of banker, and an early Parisian supporter of Spontini, Alexandre Barrillon (1762–1817); Louis-François Dauprat (1781–1868), the famous professor of horn at the Paris Conservatoire and member of the Opéra orchestra; and Joseph-David Buhl (1781–1860), principal trumpet of both the Opéra and the Théâtre Royal Italien, and Chef de musique de l’état-major of Louis XVIII’s Gardes du corps du roi. Dauprat and Buhl were well placed to promote the new instruments given their roles in the Opéra and their teaching positions at the Conservatoire and the Gardes du corps du roi respectively. From the late 1820s composers for the Opéra started to write for valved brass in works such as Chelard’s Macbeath (1827, first use of valved trumpets), Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (1829, first use of the cornet à pistons) and Halévy’s La Juive (1835, first use of valved horns).
Whilst this looked like a promising start, the Parisian musical scene expressed doubts concerning the addition of valves to the horn. In 1828 the Belgian critic François-Joseph Fétis wrote favourably of the instrument, advising that composers would find “inexhaustible resources in this beautiful instrument” but somewhat pragmatically counselling that composers should “expect from time to time” to write for the new instrument, but to “not hurry” as if the technology had been “generally adopted”, because the older horn would fall out of use “in ten years” time. In this article Fétis singled out a horn player, Pierre–Joseph Meifred (1791–1867) as a successful promoter of this new instrument.
Meifred was born in Colmar in the Basses-Alpes region of France on the 22nd of March 1791. Whilst still a young child Meifred lost his father, a high-ranking officer, who was killed in the Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars. The implication of this bereavement was that in 1800 the young Meifred was sent to study at the Prytanée, one of four specialist schools for the children of officers killed in battle, an institution which was transformed in 1803 into the Ecole impériale des Arts et Métiers. The Compiègne school had been founded by François Alexandre Frédéric, Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. The contacts made here were to prove extremely advantageous to Meifred throughout his career. It was at this school that Meifred began to study the horn, performing, at the age of twelve, a concerto at the local Théâtre de Compiègne. In 1806 the expanding school moved to Châlons-en-Champagne where Meifred continued to flourish, winning many prizes and being named school aspirant in 1811.
As a result of his school accolades the Duke of Rochefoucauld recommended Meifred for a position as secretary to Empress Josephine. During Meifred’s period of employment by the Empress he was able to attend many of the soirées held at the Château de Malmaison. These events regularly included the performances by Duvernoy and Naderman mentioned earlier and it is highly likely that Meifred would have known Spontini from this period. Hearing Duvernoy’s horn playing rekindled Meifred’s love of the instrument and on the 20th of June 1815, he enrolled at the Conservatoire to study with Duvernoy.
Meifred’s studies were interrupted by the Bourbon Restoration, which forced the Conservatoire to close briefly. The institution reopened in 1816 under the new title of Ecole royale de musique, with the new name came a new teacher – Louis-François Dauprat. In 1818 Meifred won the premier prix and a year later he had joined the Théâtre Italien as a cor basse player. In 1822 he moved from the Théâtre Italien to the Opéra where he continued in the role of cor basse.
Meifred’s connections with both Dauprat and Spontini, his role at the Paris Opéra, and his lifelong championing of amateur music, a sector of music-making well placed to benefit from the advent of valved brass, made him the ideal musician to develop and promote the new valved brass in Paris. On the 9th of March, 1828, Meifred performed a composition of his own at the inaugural concert of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, an influential ensemble dedicated to the promotion of instrumental music. This performance was well received: Fétis stated that Meifred “gave a high idea of all the resources that can be found in this instrument. Difficulties, unenforceable on the ordinary horn, and multiplied modulations have been played by M. Meyfred [sic] with a facility which has demonstrated to the less enlightened listeners the advantages of the new processes. I do not doubt that the piston horn will be generally adopted.”
Around this time both Meifred, and his former teacher Dauprat, wrote essays on the new cor à pistons. Dauprat’s 1828 Du cor à pistons. Extrait d’un Traité théorétique et pratique de cet Instrument claims to be an extract from a forthcoming Traité du Cor à Pistons, which had been “completed for a long time” although the author was holding off publication until a time when “the new instrument is sufficiently widespread.” Later in life Dauprat was to refer to the absence of this Extrait and the associated Traité in his catalogue of his own works, cryptically explaining that it was not listed there as “certain proprieties no longer allow the author to express his opinion with regard to this new instrument.” The short Extrait gives an outline of the instrument, its invention, how to tune and maintain it, and an idea of the notes available. Whilst the Extrait is of limited use to anyone wishing to play the instrument, it was sufficient for composers, always a target audience for Dauprat’s writing, to glean information as to how to write for it. Meifred’s contribution the following year De l'étendue, de l'emploi et des ressources du cor en général et de ses corps de rechange en particulier avec quelques considérations sur le cor à pistons, is clearly targeted at young composers.
Dauprat’s failure to publish his Traité may have been an acknowledgement of both his lack of faith in the new instrument and his recognition of his student, Meifred’s, belief in and aptitude for the instrument. Meifred was later to explain Dauprat’s aversion to the instrument as being due to Dauprat finding the instrument “very heavy, and its construction presenting great difficulties,” and as “he could not acclimatise himself; M. Dauprat gave up playing it.”
In 1833 the Paris Conservatoire appointed three new brass teachers. Meifred was to take the inaugural valve horn class; François Georges Auguste Dauverné (1799–1874), principal trumpet of the Opéra and former student and nephew of Joseph-David Buhl, the reinstated trumpet class, previously disbanded along with the trombone class in 1801; and a “provisional” reinstated trombone class was started by Félix Vobaron. The appointment of these three teachers indicates a significant change and a concerted effort to incorporate the advances being made in brass performance and technology into the teaching of the conservatoire. With these roles came the obligation to write new Méthodes for their instruments, and it has been suggested that Dauprat held back his already completed Traité in order that his former student could have the honour of publishing the first pedagogical text for the cor à pistons. But this was not to be, as a rather surprising person got there first.
Charles Gounod (1818–1893) studied with a number of notable Parisian teachers. His earliest lessons were privately with Anton Reicha (1770–1836), on whose death Gounod enrolled at the Conservatoire to study with Fromental Halévy (1799–1862), Henri-Montan Berton (1767–1844), Jean-François Le Sueur (1760–1837) and Ferdinando Paër (1771–1839). In 1839 the young Gounod was awarded the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Fernand, and, as a result of this prestigious award spent the next three years travelling to Rome, Vienna, Berlin and Leipzig, studying and meeting many leading lights of the artistic world.
Prior to his departure Gounod published his Six Mélodies pour cor à pistons et piano. It is not at all surprising that the young Gounod should be writing for the cor à pistons given that others in his circle, such as his teacher Halévy, were writing for the instrument, and fellow students in his cohort would have been amongst Meifred’s earliest students of the instrument. In 1838 the second ever premier prix was awarded for the cor à pistons to Meifred’s student Jean-Baptiste-Léopold Dancla (1822–1895), brother of Gounod’s fellow student and associate, the violinist and composer Charles Dancla (1817–1907). The Six Mélodies pour cor à pistons et piano were written and dedicated to horn player and maker Marcel-Auguste Raoux (1795–1871). The connection between Gounod and Raoux is hard to establish. Marcel-Auguste Raoux had been a student of Dauprat’s, second horn of the Théâtre Italien from 1822 onwards, and the Raoux family firm had been provider of instruments to influential Parisian musical institutions such as the Conservatoire and the Opéra. It has been suggested that perhaps the publication of the Six Mélodies had been instigated or encouraged by Marcel-Auguste Raoux, and that Raoux’s motivation had been to promote his credentials as a cor à pistons maker in light of Meifred’s collaborations with a rival maker Halary (Jean Hilaire Astée, known as Halary or Halari, 1775–1840). Halary was at this time providing the cors à pistons given by the Conservatoire to their premier prix winners; Léopold Dancla’s instrument survives today in the collection of Bruno Kampmann, Paris. Given the level of interest in the instrument at the time, as well as Marcel-Auguste Raoux’s personal field of influence, it is surely no surprise that Gounod was writing both for the instrument and for Raoux.
Somewhat more surprising is the publication early the following year of Gounod’s Méthode de cor à pistons. Predating Meifred’s own Méthode this is the earliest published pedagogical work for the instrument. In it Gounod argues for an approach to the instrument that combines the new two-valved instrument with the use of the hand-stopping technique associated with the older natural horn, exactly the approach that Meifred was known to promote. Gounod maligns German-made instruments, which he criticises for having the “double inconvenience” of inferior sound and inaccurate intonation, and adds a footnote recommending the instruments of Raoux which he says have, unlike the German instruments, both desirable intonation and tone.
Gounod maintains that the use of the stopped notes is advantageous in rapid passages or in order to accent certain notes, but that the cadence of the melody should determine whether notes are stopped or open. For example, “important notes” should be played open rather than stopped. This is particularly useful if the music modulates, as previously this had entailed the horn playing many stopped notes, something which could now be avoided using the valves. Gounod was keen to stress that the valves should not be used all the time, lest the horn “degenerate into a kind of trombone.” Gounod believed the natural horn’s variety of timbres to be part of “the charm of its power of varied expression,” and that if the player only used the valves it would lead to an “equality of tone which is unnatural in expression, and which might cause the horn, with pistons, to be regarded as a monotonous instrument.” Instead the player was encouraged to use stopped notes in order to temper the intonation of the instrument, for example leading-notes should be stopped in order to ensure that they were high, and likewise with sharps. Flats should be low and therefore should be played with the valves. Gounod also recommended using valves after modulations in order to help establish the new tonality. One of the greatest advantages of the new valves were the “richness” they gave to the lower notes of the instrument, formerly a range that ran the risk of a high number of recalcitrant stopped notes; Gounod delighted in the “striking and most happily conceived contrasts” now available between the different ranges of the instrument.
Whilst most of Gounod’s approach to the use of the valves and hand-stopping makes sense, he does go astray in his explanation of how to play the instrument. Gounod is correct in viewing the chromatic notes using the valves as dependent on the open harmonic from which they are derived (e.g. the bottom-line E produces E flat with the second, or in Gounod’s terminology “A”, valve, D with the first, or “B”, valve, and C sharp with the two simultaneously). However, he then promotes an approach to playing the music whereby the performer is encouraged to focus on the harmonics rather than the resultant note (see example below). This, combined with his habit of swapping from transposed to concert pitch, makes it often quite hard to follow his train of thought.
Why did Gounod publish his Méthode? It is clear that whilst he understands the subtleties of expression available to the new instrument he does not entirely understand the means. For me, the most cogent explanation of Gounod’s motivation can be found in a letter from Adolphe Adam (1803–1856) reproduced in Meifred’s 1840 Méthode pour le cor chromatique ou à pistons. Adam relates to Meifred his experiences and observations of the new chromatic brass available in Berlin. He recounts how, as part of the Institut de France’s “peer review” process for Meifred’s Méthode, he had spoken to Spontini about the instruments in Germany. Spontini admitted to knowing only of the instrument by name and instead asked Adam to explain the instruments to him. Whilst Adam was in Berlin a performance of the overture to his opera Die Hamadryaden was arranged. This work includes a horn quartet which the local horn players declared impossible to play due to the low notes, a feature of the new valved horns. Adam implores Meifred;
“I think it is necessary, my dear friend, that you hasten the publication of the method, to popularise the chromatic horn, which is held indispensable to us. The frequent use of this instrument in the great operas of Auber, Mayerbeer [sic], and Halévy, would render the execution of these works imperfect in the provinces and abroad, where it appears they are ignorant of the manner of making use of it.”
Here we have a composer writing for an instrument which he thought was common to both locations, only to be thwarted by the (alleged?) lack of knowledge on the part of the local players. It is in Adam’s interest, and that of other composers for this instrument, that knowledge of it is spread widely as soon as possible so as not to render their compositions unplayable. Did Gounod realise soon after the publication of his 1839 Six Mélodies that the lack of knowledge of the new instrument risked the piece being neglected, and thus write his Méthode to prevent this happening?
Whilst the Gounod and Meifred Méthodes share much in terms of an artistic approach to the instrument, the Meifred work is vastly more detailed, nuanced and accurate. Meifred clearly sets out his aims:
To gives the horn the notes it is lacking.
To re-establish the intonation of some notes.
To render notes that are stopped, open, yet preserve the attractive lightly stopped notes.
To give the leading note in any key the countenance it has in the natural range (i.e. by stopping it you can temper it more accurately).
To not deprive composers of the use of the crooks, each of which has its own special colour.
Meifred’s Méthode concludes with a set of ten Vocalises transcribed from the works of Auguste-Mathieu Panseron (1796–1859) and Marco Bordogni (1789–1856), both of whom were popular singing teachers at the Conservatoire and whose pedagogical works have remained in use until the present day. This is particularly the case with Bordogni, whose Vocalises were arranged and published in 1928 by Paris Conservatoire graduate and Boston Symphony Orchestra trombonist Joannès Rochut (1881–1952) and became hugely popular in the trombone and low brass repertoire.
Meifred advised that the Vocalises were valuable pieces to learn as they were useful for study, appropriate for salon performances and gave the horn player the opportunity to emulate singers, advising that “one needs an understanding of singing in order to communicate the meaning of music.”
In 1842 Meifred was joined at the Conservatoire by the newly appointed professor of natural horn, Jacques–François Gallay (1795–1864). Gallay and Meifred were near contemporaries: Gallay had enrolled at the conservatoire in 1820, shortly after Meifred had been awarded the premier prix. The Parisian press, which at this time favoured the music and musicians of the fashionable Théâtre Italien, had campaigned for the Conservatoire to revitalise its teaching staff and celebrated the “grands changement” of 1842 which brought singers Gilbert Duprez (1806–1896), and Manuel García (1805–1906), pianist Louise Farrenc (1805–1875) and “inspector of studies “ Mademoiselle Mars onto the staff of the conservatoire. Gallay succeeded his own teacher Dauprat, who was less than pleased about this, referring to Gallay as his “supplanter” rather than “successor.” Gallay’s prowess on the hand horn was widely admired. In 1845 Berlioz attended the Beethoven celebrations in Bonn. Berlioz regretted that the orchestra assembled for this event was“without being bad, responded neither by its greatness nor by its excellence that the character of the festival, the name of Beethoven and the riches of instrumental Europe gave everyone the right to hope,” and listed the musicians he would have rather heard at this event. When Berlioz reached for the name of the best horn player in Europe, it was Gallay he wished had been heading the horn section for this performance.
Published in 1841, Gallay’s Les Chants du Cœur – 6 Mélodies favorites de François Schubert, Op. 51 could be seen to serve the same purpose as Meifred’s Vocalises. The Mélodies are transcriptions of six songs by Schubert and are ideal salon pieces offering the horn player the opportunity to emulate singers; however, these works are for the hand-horn rather than the early two-valved instrument.
Most of the songs set by Gallay are still “favorite” today, though the French titles might at first obscure their origins. They include Ave Maria D. 839, Op. 52, No. 6 (from the 1825 collection ”Ellens dritter Gesang,” a setting of seven songs from Walter Scott’s (1771–1832) epic poem The Lady of the Lake); Barcarolle, better known as Auf dem Wasser zu singen D. 774, Op.72, (1823); La Truite, which is, of course, Die Forelle, Op. 32, D 550 (1817); Les plaintes d’une jeune fille, a setting of Des Mädchens Klage, D.191, Op.58 No.3, (1815); Chanson des chasseurs combines Jagdlied D.521 (composed 1817, published 1830); Am Meer (from “Schwanengesang”) D.957, Op.post. (1829); and Marguerite, better known as Goethe’s Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118, Op.2 (composed 1814, published 1821).
In 1864 the Conservatoire was faced with not one but two vacant positions. Gallay, the incumbent natural horn professor, had died after a long illness and Meifred, the valve horn teacher, had retired. In a decision that speaks volumes about the attitude to the valve horn at this time, the Conservatoire decided only to replace Gallay, with one of his own students, Jean-Baptiste Mohr (1823–1891). Mohr continued the tradition of teaching the natural horn and on his death was succeeded by François Brémond. Brémond started an “unofficial” valve horn class alongside the hand horn class in 1897, eventually closing the hand-horn class in 1903. Brémond’s 1893 transcription of the late Gounod song À La Nuit (1891) is clearly written for the three–valved instrument and includes a passage specifically marked as stopped, thus creating a moment of timbral change, something that both Gounod and Meifred would have appreciated.
For this recording three different horns and techniques were used. For the Gounod and Meifred a c. 1840, two Stölzel–valved horn Guichard horn from the collection of Bruno Kampmann (Paris) was played using the techniques promoted by Gounod and Meifred respectively. For the Gallay a 1823 cor solo natural horn by Marcel-Auguste Raoux from the Bate Collection (Oxford) was played using the techniques associated with Gallay. Gallay’s own horn, made and awarded to him as the premier prix winner at the Paris Conservatoire in 1821, is the same model of instrument, albeit made by Lucien-Joseph Raoux, Marcel-Auguste’s father. For the Brémond a three-valved piston horn was used. The body of the instrument is by Marcel-Auguste Raoux and dates from c. 1862, though the detachable valve block was made by Boosey (London) and added in 1918. This instrument formerly belonged to the horn player and conductor Norman del Mar and now is in Anneke Scott’s personal collection. The piano played by Steven Devine is an 1851 Érard grand piano, made in Érard’s London factory and belonging to the University of Birmingham.