Of the many distinguished musicians, whose advice I was privileged to receive in the early days of my cellistic career, it was Pierre Fournier's unstinting encouragement and advice, which made a profound impression upon me.

Pierre Fournier

Aristocratic in bearing, elegant and charming, Pierre Fournier the artist was Pierre Fournier the man.  His music-making was the essence of nobility and elegance.  As with Fritz Kreisler whom he revered, his playing evinced an eloquent expressiveness in a style that was unexaggerated and always within the margins of good taste.  Ideologically and temperamentally opposed to the market forces governing today's musical promotion, he belonged to a generation which believed that art should speak for itself.

He used to speak of his early musical influences.  There were informal musical evenings in Neuilly with Alfred Cortot, occasionally joined by Jacques Thibaud (whom he regarded as very talented and very lazy!), and a stimulating association with Arthur Schnabel and Joseph Szigetti led to many vigorous musical arguments, in which apparently Szigetti's view invariably prevailed.

It was Fritz Kreisler, however, whom he never knew personally, whose performances in Paris in the early 1920’s really fired his imagination.

Fournier belonged to a great tradition of string masters who spoke compellingly with the right hand.  "I wish I had your left hand", he once remarked to Paul Tortelier, who replied: "and I wish I had your right hand!"  He expressed distaste for modern bowing techniques, which, in his view, were resulting in a blandness of musical articulation and a negation of "la prise du son".

We first met at the Edinburgh Festival in 1967. At the time I was dependent on as scholarship for my continued study with Tortelier in Paris.  On hearing me play Schumann's 'cello concerto, Fournier made no secret of his respect for my teacher:  "Your teacher is scrupulously faithful to the score. You are not!"  Fournier's advice ultimately swayed the committee in favour of allowing me to remain in Paris.

He was an inspirational teacher, who succeeded in blending praise with respectful criticism.  He also had an endearing sense of modesty. For example, he once explained he could not help me as much with Brahms's transcription of his Regenlied Sonata,  which he had "only been playing about ten years",  as with Don Quixote,  which he had had "the privilege of performing with Richard Strauss and George Szell".

His relationship with George Szell began curiously. After hearing him play Bachs 4th Cello Suite in St. Moritz in 1951, Szell invited him to Cleveland the following year to perform Don Quixote. However Szell also invited him to precede the Strauss with Bach's 6th 'Cello Suite to be performed with the presence on stage of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra presided over by George Szell.  The gauntlet had been thrown down and Fournier triumphed, or as he later told me:  "I realised that Szell was challenging me and that failure to respond would have brought our musical association to a swift conclusion.    Fortunately, I was in reasonably good form..."

I feel a profound sense of privilege in having known Pierre Fournier.  Our relationship deepened over the remaining twenty years of his life.  I was encouraged to look upon him as a friend as well as a mentor. He often counselled me against shyness, and inhibition which he regarded as his life-long affliction.  Lydia, his first wife, with her infectious spontaneity contributed to the many happy occasions we spent together with their son, Jean-Pierre.

On visits to London, he preferred dinner in our kitchen to official functions, especially when his wife's protracted illness forced him to travel alone.

At our last meeting in Geneva in 1985, he spoke bitterly about being a Frenchman who no longer had a career in France.  His bitterness, however, was soon dissolved into a kind, tender attitude, as he spoke of people, who were dear to him.  I was particularly moved when he spoke of his affection for my father, who, in his medical capacity, once looked after him in Glasgow. When my father died, I endeavoured to make contact with Fournier to let him know.  It was not to be.  Pierre Fournier and my father died on the same day.

London, January 1990

TV interview


TV interview of Richard Markson by Fabrizio Ferrari


Cello Music Editions

A collection of music scores edited by Richard Markson