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* FOURNIER, Pierre(24th Jun. 1906 ~ 8th Jan. 1986)

[ Prince of the cello ]

* Curriculum Vitae

    Pierre Fournier is a member of glorious school of French cellists in 20th century after Casals - from Paul Bazelaire and Maurice Maréchal, Fournier, Tortelier, Navara, and Gendron - and perhaps most famous in them. He is almost incarnation of 'gracefulness' used in depicting French players, called 'Prince of the cello'. What a good and enviable nickname!

   He was born in Paris as a son of army general, from a musical family(His brother Jean is also a famous violinist, whose wife is Jeanette Doyen - Jean Doyen's sister. He made trio team with Badura-Skoda and Antonio Janigro and recorded many trio repertoires at Westminster label). He learned piano, but suffered from polio and changed to cello at nine because he had problems in pedaling from the aftereffects of it. He was taught from 1918 by André Hekking, later famous teacher Paul Bazelaire in Paris Conservatoire. He graduated at the first prize in 1923, making début next year in Paris. He became solist of Colonne Orchestra on Jan. 1927, starting concert tour in Europe. Invited by Berlin Philharmonic in 1933 he went to Germany, which established his international fame. Maybe he knew Furtwängler at this time, and broadcast recording of Dvorák concerto 2nd mvt.(1942; more or less dubious) and Schumann concerto 3rd mvt. remained.
   His activity in chamber music right after d
ébut was very impressive. In 1943, he succeeded Casals in the legendary trio whose other members were Alfred Cortot and Jacques Thibaud. His affection to this genre is essential to his career. From 1941 to 1949 he taught at Paris Conservatoire, when he recorded mainly for EMI under Walter Legge's control after WWII. 'Introuvable de Fournier' by EMI(4 CD set), and Fauré's Piano quartet No.2 recording in 1940(with Marguerite Long and Thibaud) represent this years.
   After quitting the teaching job, he concertrated on all of his time to concert performances. His d
ébut at USA was 1948, USSR 1961(where he carried a jury of Tchaikovsky Concour with Rostropovich), Japan, and Korea in 1978. His partner at podium were almost all of the famous conductors in 20th century, including Furtwängler, Walter, Szell, Kubelik, Karajan, Clemens Krauss, Cellibidache, Martinon, and Karl Münchinger. Other partners were Backhaus, Kempff, Gulda, Rubinstein, Schnabel, Firkusny, Lipatti, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter, Francescatti, Szeryng, and Szigeti, etc. - all-star members. After late 1960s, he liked to play with his son Jean-Pierre(as Jean Fonda at records). In 1953, French government honored him by Région d'honeur. His bow was finally stopped on 8th Jan. 1986 by a stroke, shortly before his second visit plan to Korea.

    His artistry was 'deriving most of gracefulness of the work he played'. His tone and musical fluence is never hard, and so fluent that I usually come to forget it is very difficult to play cello like him. But his beautiful tone does never spoil the whole musical span, which shows his supreme experience and musicality. Listening to Casals I realize his humanity and deep concentration on the essence of the works he thought to be, and to Rostropovich I am moved by his overwhelming technique, power, and vast scale. Fournier always has me consider again how beautiful the works are. Obviously, difficult to judge which of the two player is better, I think Fournier is somewhat better than Rostropovich in the recordings from baroque to classical era. The latter often shows some disaccord to his partners, but Fournier never. And his ensemble is almost such an instinct that his best realm seems to be chamber music, I think(Perhaps it is prejudice from my taste. ^^). Of course, it depends on the playing style, but isn't it minus if a cellist has problem at chamber music?

    His recordings are released much as CD, and lucky in transffering. Mainly EMI From début to mid 50s, Decca in 50s. His most important career as recording artist is a 'title cellist' representing DG from late 50s to late 60s, after which he recorded freely at RCA, EMI, Erato, Philips, and Sony. My discography includes almost all of the so-called standard cello repertoire(though he did not record as many comtemporaries as Rostropovich). Of course DG is the central company, but considerable amount in other companies
    But, it is natural that his representative recordings be those of DG in his peak times. In that aspect, I want to recommend Haydn's D major and Boccherini's B flat major concertos(DG) above all. Being really classical and full of dignity, I have never heard better than this though text is somewhat romantic in the viewpoint of authenticism. Bach's unaccompanied cello suites(Archiv) is next. I think this is the best record by modern cello even though including Casals' legendary one. His graceful and balanced playing is perfectly matched to Bach's music. These two recordings are essential to Fournier's fans. Accompanied by Szell/BPO, Dvorák's concerto(DG) is one of the best recording of this work, especially the best in the aspect of harmony between solo and orchestra. This record is the best choice to the newly listener of this work. Other famous concertos are Lalo, Saint-Saëns No.1(DG), Bruch's 'Kol Nidrei'(DG), and the reputation of R.Strauss' 'Don Quixote' conducted by Szell(Sony) and Karajan(DG) have already been firmed.
    Beethoven and Brahms' sonatas are recommendable in
his chamber music recordings. Beethoven's sonatas was recorded three times, in which I want to name the ones with Gulda(studio) and Kempff(Paris live), all of DG label. Though Kempff made some mistakes, I think the later live recording is somewhat better in the aspect of equivalent fusion of two players, and cheaper(^^). In Brahms' sonatas, only the record with Backhaus(Decca) is now available, but very great and at the summit. The nexts are trio recordings with Artur Rubinstein and Henryk Szerying, including Brahms' Nos.1~3, Schumann's No.1, and Schubert's Nos. 1 &2(all RCA label). These are one of the most beautiful trio records after Oistrakh trio's EMI recording. Beethoven's complete trios with Kempff and Szerying(DG) are also good, recorded in 1969~70(Beethoven's bicentennial). Other sonatas are 'Arpeggione' with his son(DG), Bach with Ruzickova(Erato), Poulenc(EMI), and Debussy & Martinu(Sony). Small pieces(DG) is proud of his very sophisticated style and was available by double series and now by Original Masters release.

    Perhaps it's nothing to be desired if a great artist is also good-natured. Fournier seemed to be so. Friedrich Gulda does not resemble Fournier in any way, but Gulda played with him in about 30 concerts and recorded Beethoven's complete sonatas. He said "He was the more seasoned, and my superior. I owe him a great deal. I learnt a huge amount from him, musically, about taking things seriously, and he guided me, kindly but also very strenuously." Of no other musician does Gulda spoke with so much respect, affection and warmth as Fournier. Later, Heinrich Schiff tried to persuade gulda to join him in a new recording of the Beethoven's sonatas, but in vain. Gulda said to him, "Don't build up your hopes. I was so spoilt by Fournier that it's out of the question for me, great as it might be."

The resources

  • Fournier ; DG 135 132 & DGG 138 669 SLPM(LPs)
  • Cello Concerto by Haydn & Boccherini ; DG 2535 179(LP)
  • Anecdote by Gulda ; liner note of DG 437 352-2, by Reinhard Beuth


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Created ; 29th Aug. 2000
Last update ; 4th Jun. 2007