Gounod, Charles-François. (1818–1893)

"All this story about Faust...I have been the fool or victim" – Autograph letter relating to Gounod's difficulties in obtaining his desired royalties from his English publishers

Autograph Letter from the French composer recently described as “perhaps the central figure in French music in the third quarter of the 19th century,” addressed to his agent, Ernest Gambart (1814–1902).  Dated 29 June, 1872, 4 pp., 8vo, on letterhead of Tavistock House, London, the residence of Georgina Weldon (1837–1914) and her husband. In French. Signed "Ch. Gounod." Usual folds, very fine.

Initially, Gounod thanks Gambart for providing advice about accommodations in Spa, Belgium, noting that a particular property can be rented for full months only and it is his intention to only stay for three weeks.

The main topic of the letter, however, is Gounod's grievance about "all this story about Faust". Gounod drafts a detailed counter-strategy involving the services of Gombart, a certain Mr. May and Madame Weldon: "I believe we have to meet before we launch the campaign in this matter: You [Gombart] can hand Madame Weldon a good deal of documents of which you doubtlessly have a clearer memory than I do, and I need to collect all the details and circumstances of which I have been the fool or victim, and which can be grouped under a common heading of what you in your letter called by the two words false representations... Today Madame Weldon will show you even a copy of [the periodical] Musical World in which you will find a letter from me responding to a letter from Mr. Boosey that will be sent to you soon – and you all will be up to date about the polemic as it will proceed." 

Further on, Gounod announces that he has arranged a concert (of his music) at St James's Hall for 15 July, with an an aside at the management of Albert Hall, which did him the "offense and injustice of refusing the hall as a reward for myself [as a conductor] having made the most beautiful music ever heard there." He asks Gombart to "push" his London friends to attend.

At the time, Gounod lived in the household of Georgina Weldon, a political activist and amateur soprano whose favorite occupation was fighting law suits, after Gounod's family had returned to France in 1871. He would stay with her and her husband for the next three years. There were rumors at the time that they were lovers, and these rumors are in part what drove him back to France.

Curiously, the letter is completely silent about the "Faust story" itself, that is, the conflict between Gounod and the publisher Stowe about the royalties for the English edition of his opera (and other works). As the letter points out, this conflict was borne out publicly in the journal Musical World; the issue mentioned in the letter is vol. 50, no. 26, published on 29 June 1872, the same day as the present letter. Gounod's letter (in fact, two) as well as a letter from the other party are on p. 413 of that issue. Gounod's feud with the Royal Albert Hall is also mentioned there. In their passion about litigation, Gounod's present letter and also his letters published in the periodical are testimony to the extent of Madame Weldon's influence on him.

As to the Royal Albert Hall, which had recently opened, Gounod directed a choral society there but was deposed after a few months. 

The Belgian Ernest Gambart was an influential art dealer and print publisher, head of the Goupil & Cie branch in London. It was he who had alerted Gounod in 1863 to the possibility of selling English performing rights to his works and who Gounod promptly appointed to be his agent.

"Mr. Boosey" refers almost certainly to the music publisher of the same name. (6695)

Autograph Letter
Classical Music