Chamber Music Societies

On parallel lines with the big symphony concerts and the new conservatoires, societies were formed to spread the knowledge of, and form a taste for, chamber-music. This music, so common in Germany, was almost unknown in Paris before 1870. There was nothing but the Maurin Quartette, which gave five or six concerts every winter in the Salle Pleyel, and played Beethoven’s last quartettes there. But these performances only attracted a small number of artists ; and so far as the general public was concerned the Société des derniers quartuors de Beethoven had the reputation for devoting itself to a singular and incomprehensible kind of music that had been written by a deaf man.

The true founder of chamber-music concerts in Paris was M. Emile Lemoine, who started the society called La Trompette. He has given us a history of his work in the Revue Musicale (15 October, 1903). He was an engineer at the École Poly-technique ; and after he had left school he formed, about 1860, a quartette society of earnest amateurs, though they were not very skilled performers. This little society continued to meet regularly, and after perfecting itself, little by little, finally opened its doors to the general public, which attended the concerts in gradually increasing numbers. Then La Trompette came into being. It prospered from the day that M. Saint-Saëns—who was at that time a young man—made its acquaintance. He was pleased with these gatherings, and became an intimate friend of Lemoine ; and he interested himself in the society, and induced other celebrated artists to take an interest in it, too. Among its early friends were MM. Alphonse Duvernoy, Diémer, Pugno, Delsart, Breitner, Delaborde, Ch. de Bériot, Fissot, Marsick, Loeb, Rémy, and Holmann. With such patronage, La Trompette soon acquired fame in the musical world, and ” it represented in classical chamber-music the semi-official part played by the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire in classical orchestral music. Rubinstein, Paderewski, Eugène d’Albert, Hans von Bulow, Arthur de Greef, Mme. Essipoff, and Mme. Menter, never missed getting a hearing there when their tours led them to Paris ; and to figure on the programme of La Trompette was like the consecration of an artist.” Such a society naturally contributed a great deal to the spread of classical chamber-music in Paris. M. Lemoine writes :

Classical music was so little known to the musical public that even the audiences of La Trompette, cultured as they were, did not at all understand Beethoven’s last quartettes ; and my friends jeered at my taste for enigmas. This only made me the more determined that they should hear one of these great works at each concert. And sometimes I would give the same work at two or three concerts running if I thought it had not been properly appreciated. In that case I used to say before the performance : ` It seems to me that such-and-such a work has not been quite understood at the last hearing ; and as it is a really marvellous work, I am sure that your feeling is that you do not know it sufficiently. So I have included it in today’s programme.’ ”

These performances of sonatas, trios, and quartettes, were attentively listened to by an audience of five or six hundred persons, the greater part of them cultured people, students from the poly-technics and universities, who formed the kernel of a very discerning and enthusiastic public for chamber-music.

By degrees, following the example of Émile Lemoine, other quartette societies were formed ; and at present they are so numerous that it would be difficult to name them all. And then there sprang up the same spirit of intelligent curiosity that had induced the French Kapellmeister of the symphony concert societies sometimes to introduce their German and Russian colleagues as conductors ; and for this purpose the Nouvelle Société Phil-harmonique de Paris was founded, in 1901, on the initiative of Dr. Fränkel and under the direction of M. Emmanuel Rey, to give a hearing in Paris to the principal foreign quartette players. And the profit was as great in one case as in the other ; and the friendly rivalry between French quartette players and those of other countries bore good fruit, and gave us a fuller understanding of the inner character of German music.