The women in Gounod's life



Conference given by Jean-Pierre Gounod, on Friday , December 4, 1992 to the FRENCH CIRCLE OF GENEVA


(Sorry but links below are not yet translated.)


GARCIA sisters


George SAND



Georgina WELDON





1893-1993, one begins to speak, in the music circles, of the celebration of the centenary of Charles GOUNOD's death. So, right away, I wish to thank your President Jean PLIHON for allowing me to open here, in Geneva, the memorial celebrations of a great French composer, my great-grandfather.

Hundred years! And nevertheless his music seems always so present and young that sometimes I'm asked: " did you know him? ". One will never ask me any more!

Yvette GUILBERT, famous for her coarse repertoire: " Le fiacre ", "Madame Arthur", who died in 1944, had in created 1883 the song called " La glue " on verses from Jean RICHEPIN, put in music by GOUNOD! This was only yesterday!

I have, for a moment, thought to tell you about the multiple harassments an artist meets with during his career, there would be enough for a talk. Indeed, after seeing again the film " Amadeus ", I noted that MOZART was, by the Court, forbidden to write for ballets! For GOUNOD, on the contrary, access to the Opera required a ballet, composed afterwards, which was done for Faust as well asfor Roméo, interrupting the dramatic intensity of the original work.

-Do we know that the Comédie Française wanted to ban "Le Médecin malgré lui", considered unfair competition to Molière's play?

-Do we know that Rome wanted that the scene of the church, in Faust, considered sacrilegious, be deleted?

-Do we know that the Pope Pie X wanted to ban, in the Holy Cécile Mass, the too numerous repetitions of words, finding there a profane tendency?

-Do we know that the publisher CHOUDENS, who loved GOUNOD for what he made with him, did not like Faust and said to his children: " If you're not good, I'll take to you to see Faust "

-Do we know that léon CARVALHO, director of the Light Opera, ex Lyric Theater, demanded that sung recitatives be replaced by simple dialogues without music, to better to highlight the divas during their entrance?

-Do we know that the opera singer Mrs CARVALHO, wife of the precedent, demanded that at the end of the opera, Mireille and Vincent get married.

Anecdotes of this type would be numerous, funny certainly, but after all rather depressing, so I preferred to invite you to go deeper into Charles GOUNOD's intimacy, by discovering what role and influence certain women, who counted in Charles GOUNOD's life, and left behind them, at the occasion of their meeting with GOUNOD a certain " parfum de femme ", as MOZART had Don JUAN say.

Fate has it that they are, in number, equal to that of the supposed muses taking care of the creative power of men, under all forms. I am going so to evoke for you the recollection of nine women, all of exceptional character. Without them, GOUNOD wouldn't have been GOUNOD !

Before revealing these successive meetings, let with me place quickly in the time our musician. He was nine years old following BEETHOVEN's death, followed the year after by SCHUBERT. When he will, in turn, leave this world, DEBUSSY will be already 31, Eric SATIE only 27, but FAURE and DUPARC will have already reached maturity and will not be far from fifty.






If, as I tried to hint to you, GOUNOD owes a lot to the women who accompanied him during certain moments of his life, in return these women owe him as much.

Certainly, at twelve, the MALIBRAN wakes him up to the taste of musical composition. Pauline VIARDOT is the inspirer of Sapho. FANNY HENSEL gives him a taste of German romanticism. MARCELLO supports him with her brilliance while he is in a creative dead end. WELDON inspires him to compose " Biondina ". Even the Virgin Marie will be necessary in an Ave Maria not foreseen at first!

But, by looking at it closely, and if one disregards his music of religious inspiration, the musical compositions of GOUNOD put in light different aspects of the eternal woman. Is it by a sort of transfer that GOUNOD, throughout his work, will evoke different types of women, contrary to Richard WAGNER whose work will be centred more particularly on the epic of the gods and man? Two works bring them together, in a perfect balance of the couple man - woman: Roméo and Juliette, and Tristan and Yseult. But with GOUNOD, it's Sapho, the poetess, Marguerite, the defenseless young girl, Juliette, the fragility of profane love, Pauline, the greatness of sacred love, Balkis, the Queen de Saba and the weakness of senses, and finally, Mireille, the freshest of all his heroines.

GOUNOD said: " what interests us, above all in the theater, is us, sons, fathers, mothers, lovers, in brief, we human beings ourselves! " Some days ago I heard Vittorio Gassman saying:Music is an art without direct meaning, but it has the power to arouse pure emotion ".

When one asked GOUNOD which were the preferences in his life, he answered: " God created three beautiful things: music, flowers and women, It is them I always sang."

Here is maybe what explains the always living presence of GOUNOD's work. Let us thank for it the nine muses which I have just evoked in front of you, they were certainly responsible for something.


Jean-Pierre Gounod


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