Sunday, 7 December 2014

Fauré in London

A long introduction before I get to the point I’m afraid on W.H. Squire's recordings of Fauré!

Sicilienne for Cello & Piano Op. 78 [1898]

William Henry Squire cello & [Hamilton Harty?], piano

Columbia L1759
(ⓦAX 1225)
Recorded: Wednesday, 23rd December, 1925
Issued September 1926 & deleted August 1931

Papillon for Cello & Piano Op. 77 [1898]

William Henry Squire, cello & [Hamilton Harty?], piano

Columbia L1977
(ⓦAX 1248)
Recorded: Friday, 15th January 1926
Issued June 1927 & deleted August 1930

(If you are not familiar with FLAC I can recommend Foobar2000 player)

During March and the beginning of April 1898 Gabriel Fauré spent a vacation with his friend and music patron Leo Frank Schuster (1852-1927). ‘Schuster was a music-lover and patron of the arts in the United Kingdom. His home overlooking St James's Park at 22 Old Queen Street, London, part of which now contains offices of The Spectator magazine, became a meeting-place for artists, writers and musicians, including Siegfried Sassoon, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert, Sir Edward Elgar and Sir Adrian Boult. He was a particular patron of Edward Elgar, and also did much to make Gabriel Fauré's name known in England’ [Wikipedia]

Film of Fauré having a smoke in 1913

It was on this visit that a meeting was set between Fauré and Mrs Patrick Campbell by Schuster. Mrs Campbell had been rebuffed by Debussy when asked if he could provide incidental music for Maurice Maeterlinck’s  Pelléas et Mélisande which she wanted to be produced in London in a translation by Jack Mackail. Mrs Campbell must have heard Fauré’s work and immediately set forth to commission Fauré to provide music in the places she felt most called out for music in the play. 

Mrs Patrick Campbell

Fauré composed some nineteen numbers very quickly and ‘On 21 June 1898 Fauré himself conducted the orchestra of the Prince of Wales' Theatre, Piccadilly (Coventry Street) for the premiere of the English version of Pelléas et Mélisande. In the audience were Maeterlinck, Charles van Lerberghe, Reynaldo Hahn, the Princess Edmond de Polignac (who was to be the dedicatee of the orchestral suite), the painter John Singer Sargent and all Fauré's London friends. The production was a great success with the public and the critics. Maeterlinck himself wrote an enthusiastic letter to Mrs Patrick Campbell which finished: in a few words, “you... filled me with an emotion of beauty the most complete, the most harmonious, the sweetest that I have ever felt to this day.”’ [See Jean-Michel Nectoux: Gabriel Fauré: A Musical Life.]

Today only the Suite Pelléas et Mélisande of four of the nineteen pieces is regularly played: Prélude-Fileuse-Sicilienne-La mort de Mélisande.

The Sicilienne had been originally written in 1892 as part of the incidental music for a production of Molière’s Le Bougeois Gentilhomme that never reached the stage.

The question, which is open to a lot of conjecture, is this. Had Fauré sent Squire the scores of both Papillon and the Sicilienne prior to Fauré’s stay in London from March 1898. I can’t be sure of this as I have not tracked down a programme for a concert given on the 12th February 1898 at the Queens Hall in which ‘Mr W.H. Squire produced three little violoncello pieces by Godard and Fauré with much success’ [The Musical Times, March 1898]. Another notice of the concert appeared in The Observer ‘Three graceful little pieces for violoncello and orchestra, by Godard and Fauré respectively, were brought forward by Mr. W. H. Squire, for the first time in London. Their value is not great, but as played by that talented artist and the Queen’s Hall orchestra they were pleasant enough to hear.' [The Observer,13 February 1898]. 

This asks another question, was Squire playing the Sicilienne in its Le Bougeois Gentilhomme form, and did it even have a title yet, or was he playing just the Elégie Op.24 which had been arranged for orchestra in 1895 and the other two pieces were by Godard? At least one of these pieces would have been played, one hopes anyway. Another anomaly is this, did Squire play them again at Schuster’s house from which Mrs Campbell approached Fauré to compose the incidental music? Squire is known to have played at the Schuster house frequently.

Schuster's house at 22 Old Queen St., London

One fact from this mountain of hypothetical conjecture was that Fauré, on his return to Paris, dedicated the score of the Sicilienne and inscribed the manuscript 'To Mons. W. H. Squire Sicilienne pour Violoncelle et piano Paris 16 avril,1898, Gabriel Fauré’. [This is now held in the Eugene Istomin Collection, New York]

I’m not wholly sure when Squire first met Fauré but they had met by 1896 for in a concert of the 1st May 1896 included Fauré’s piano quartet Op. 15 with the composer at the piano together with Adolph Brodsky, violin, Alfred Hobday, viola, and W.H. Squire, cello.

William Henry Squire

Now as far as I can judge Squire had not previously recorded any Fauré and was not to do so again. Were these two early electrically recorded Columbia sides made as homage to the composer who died the previous year? Did he think that the subtleties of the work could be brought out better with this new process? Had he just decided that Faure might just become popular! Very little of his work, appart from the songs, were recorded by the mid 1920s.

Also single potpourri pieces that Squire had so often recorded for both HMV and Columbia had by this time begun to give way to longer concertos and chamber works. With a new generation of cellists competing for gramophone recognition, Squire’s was, with his ‘old fashioned’ playing style, being slowly being ousted from the studios.

These two recordings can probably be regarded as ‘creator version.’ The Papillon, although written in 1884 was not published until 1898, is played so much slower than cellist play it today. In fact most cellist take it as some sort of exercise in prowess, rather than the delicate butterfly hovering about on a sunny afternoon. The Sicilienne too is also played quite slowly and both recordings use what today would be thought excessive portamento, but then I  like portamento and I don’t think that it's a dirty word. The piano accompaniment is excellent and although the pianist is unknown it may well be Harty as he was the de facto accompanist for most of Squire's pre-electric recordings.

Both these recordings are not in the best condition the Papillon appears to have a pressing problem, this was noted in The Gramophone and so was not given a review and may also account for the delay in issue - both recordings are a bit noisy.

I should mention what is on the 'B' side of each of these pieces: L1759 has W.H. Squire's Slumber Song and L1977 has Herbert Hughes' arrangment of The Sally Garden.

Fauré and Mrs Patrick Campbell,1898


  1. Informative and fascinating, as always!

  2. I completely agree with Buster!

  3. Many thanks Satyr for looking too


  4. Wonderful portrait of interlocking circles of culture and creativity, thanks so much!

  5. Muchas gracias por este bello aporte, saludos.