Charles Lamoureux

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Both of the leading conductors in France in the last part of the nineteenth century Charles Lamoureux and Edouard Colonne, came from the same city in a major wine-growing region of France and shared the…
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Both of the leading conductors in France in the last part of the nineteenth century Charles Lamoureux and Edouard Colonne, came from the same city in a major wine-growing region of France and shared the same violin teacher, Baudoin. Charles Lamoureux was the son of a cafe owner. Charles advanced so rapidly that Baudoin personally footed the bill to send him to study with Girard at the Conservatory. Young Lamoureux did not disappoint, winning two first prizes and a second prize from 1853 to 1855. He studied harmony, counterpoint and fugue, and composition under Tolbecque, Leborne, and Chauvet, respectively. Lamoureux had also helped pay his own way by taking jobs in orchestras from 1850. He started at the Théâtre de Gymnase, and then got a job in the opera orchestra. In 1858, he led a string quartet that also included Colonne. In 1860, he founded an orchestra, the Séances Populaire de Musique de Chambre with Colonne, Adam, and Pilet. With various changes of partners, this orchestra became known for presenting new or under-performed works. He also joined the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire (the Paris Conservatory Orchestra). In 1872, he founded an important quartet with Coblain, Adam, and Tolbecque, which gradually grew into a chamber orchestra.

He traveled to England and Germany and became impressed by the large-scale oratorios that were a mainstay of concert life, particularly at summer festivals. By now, he was assistant conductor of the conservatory orchestra, and proposed to its board that they allow him to organize one or two oratorios. When they refused, he resigned his position and founded his own orchestra, the Société de l'Harmonie Sacrée in 1873. This was facilitated by the fact that he had married a very wealthy woman and had her fortune available. He began with the St. Matthew Passion, Judas Maccabaeus, and Messiah. He did not slight French works; the Société presented Gallia by Gounod and Massenet's Eve. The concerts had a high level of preparation and were successful, establishing him as an important conductor. This led the Opéra-Comique and the the Théâtre de Gymnase opera orchestra to engage him to conduct, even though he disbanded the Société as too expensive in 1876.

The engagement with the Opéra-Comique lasted only six months due to an argument during a rehearsal between Lamoureux and its director, Carvalho. His association with the opera orchestra lasted longer, until December 1879, until a fuss with director Vaucorbeil over matters connected with a production of Don Giovanni, which also prompted Lamoureux to turn in his resignation.

He went to London where he organized an important festival of French music that was held in 1881. At that point, the Théâtre du Chateau d'Eau offered him a contract to give symphony concerts weekly. Lamoureux founded a new orchestra for this series, called the Société des Nouveaux-Concerts, which came to be called the Concerts Lamoureux. The concerts were known for their introduction of new music, both of France and other countries -- including the music of Wagner -- for Lamoureux was a strong partisan of the German composer. He even performed whole acts of operas like Tristan and Lohengrin in his concert series. He traveled to Bayreuth, where Wagner personally authorized him to present Lohengrin on-stage. This performance took place in 1887, but Lamoureux canceled it after anti-Wagnerians staged a demonstration, taking advantage of a border incident with Germany and claiming that it was "unpatriotic" to perform the German master's music. Lamoureux had to absorb the loss caused by canceling the second concert.

Lamoureux was known for the precision of his leadership; for the firm, secure sound he got from his orchestra; and his showmanship. He not only personally hired the musicians, but supplied most of the instruments to them. He had a staff of men in blue shirts who would place the instruments and music on chairs for the players before the concert after inspecting them and retrieve them after performance, again subjecting them to an inspection. He had a string instrument repair specialist on staff to immediately do any needed repairs.

As can be gathered, he was a highly opinionated, hot-tempered man and he treated his employee/musicians often with exceptional rudeness. Carl Flesch, one of his violinists, referred to him as "our almighty ruler" and recorded that he had "a completely uncontrolled and unvarying lack of consideration." Orchestra members and guest artists alike might be treated to "a choleric outburst of fury." The news that there was deep resentment about this treatment did not cause him to cool his temper. He simply showed up at rehearsal, pulled out a pistol, waved it around, and said, "If I'm attacked, they'll find me ready!" He took the orchestra on tour several times, including yearly trips to London. In 1887, he was nominated for membership in the Legion of Honor. In 1897, he gave up full-time directorship of the orchestra to his son-in-law, Camille Chevillard. He had dreams of building a French Bayreuth, though he never achieved this. However, in 1899, the year before he died, he realized another long-standing dream of his, to lead a performance of Tristan und Isolde.