Charles ( Jean Baptiste ) Dancla

File Version 1.01 © 1998 R.D.J.Herrera

( b.Bagnères de Bigorre, 19 Dec 1817 d. Tunis, 10 Nov 1907 )

Charles Dancla was a Violinist, Composer and Teacher, and the most celebrated member of his family. He first started the violin locally with a teacher named Dussert, but soon, at the age of 9 was given an opportunity to play to Rode, then living in retirement in Bordeaux. Rode was so impressed by his playing and sight reading that he gave Dancla letters of introduction to Baillot, Cherubini ( then director of the Paris Conservatoire ) and Kreutzer.

From 1828 - 40 Dancla studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Paul Guérin and Baillot, winning a premier prix ( first prize ) in 1833 ; he then studied counterpoint and fugue with Halévy and composition with Berton. Some of the pupils studying with Dancla were Gounod, Bousquet and César Franck. Dancla, while still a student of composition, would often play the violin in Paris Theatre Orchestras, and soon succeeded Javault as leader at the Opéra-Comique. This provided support for his family, and enabled himself and his brothers to study at the Conservatoire. Dancla was still only 17 years old at this stage.

Dancla was associated with Habeneck's Société des Concerts at the Paris Conservatoire as early as 1834, and he was its leading violinist from 1841 to 1863, appearing also as soloist. Dancla's teacher, Baillot, often performed quartets by Boccherini, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and this certainly inspired the Danclas ( he had 2 brothers who played the violin and cello and a sister who played the piano ) to form a chamber music group around 1839. Their concerts at Hesselbein's home became a regular feature of the Paris concert season.

However, Dancla's immediate future was more than slightly troubled ! His ambition to succeed Baillot in 1842 as principal professor of violin was never fulfilled due mainly to internal politics at the Conservatoire. This was all the more disappointing considering Dancla had Habeneck's support. Infact, due to unsettled conditions, 6 years later, Dancla refused the post of assistant conductor at the Opéra-Comique and left Paris altogether. For 2 years Dancla became postmaster ( ! ) of Cholet , though he continued to play the violin occasionally with his family in Paris. He would also play locally in the Cholet area. After a Paris concert ( 1849 ) in which his 4th quartet in Bflat was performed, Henri Blanchard wrote in his review " He is still a good composer even though circumstances have forced him to become a man of letters ". Dancla returned to Paris to work as an official in the postal administration, and was finally offered a position at the Conservatoire in 1855. In 1860 ( some sources have 1857 ) he was made professor of the violin, a post he held for 32 years until his unwilling retirement in 1892. At the age of 72 he was still performing his own works in public.

Dancla's ideal was Vieuxtemps, though he was certainly impressed with de Beriot's style and elegance and overwhelmed by Paganini's virtuosity. Dancla did not tour, so his fame outside France was based on his compositions. Blanchard had some reservations about his playing, which he attributed to Dancla's nervousness and irritability, but he praised Dancla's trills, his lightness of bowing and his brilliance. Dancla was highly respected at the Conservatoire though he did have fewer eminent pupils than his colleague Massart. Pupils of Dancla at the Conservatoire include the American woman violinist Maud Powell, and the Italian violinists Achille Simonetti and Francesco de Guarnieri.

Dancla was a prolific composer and won seven prizes altogether for his string quartets ( 14 in all ) and his works for male chorus. However it is through his didactic works that his music survives. He composed more than 130 pieces for the violin. His most famous pieces ( all 4 for violin ) are the Ecole du mécanisme Op.74 ( or Op.23 ?), his 20 Etudes brillantes Op.73, his Airs Varieés ( based on famous operatic themes of his day ) and a Progressive Method for violin beginners ( published by Ricordi ). Published by Schott are the 3 books on the "School of Melody". Each book contains a small collection of melodic encore pieces, which as regards melody are to be considered the ultimate test of purity and legato playing. Book 1 is a fine test for early (Grade 2) stage youngsters who have grasped the essence of a true singing tone. Dancla also wrote a book with a list of his works, Notes et souvenirs ( Paris, 1893, 2/ 1898 ). Dancla is regarded as the last exponent of the classical French school of violin playing.

Dramatis personae

The Dancla family

Charles Dancla : Regarded as the last exponent of the classical French school of violin playing. Teacher at the Paris Conservatoire during the second half of the 19th Century. Now appreciated for his excellent violin compositions which are very sought-after both for their concert style and their didactic value.

Arnaud Philipe Dancla ( b. Bagnères de Bigorre on 1 Jan 1819 d. Bagnères de Bigorre on 1 Feb 1862 ) Cellist and composer and brother of Charles Dancla. Studied the Cello with Norblin at the Conservatoire, winning a premier prix in 1841. Wrote studies and concert pieces for the Cello. Illness forced his early retirement to his native town.

( Jean Pierre ) Leopold Dancla ( b. Bagnères de Bigorre on 1 June 1822 ( or 1823 ? ) d. Paris on 29 April 1895 ). Violinist, cornettist and composer and brother of Charles Dancla. First studied the violin with Dussert ( as did his brother ). He then continued with Baillot, winning a premier prix in 1842 and he also studied the cornett with Meifred at the Conservatoire, winning a premier prix in 1838. He played the violin in the orchestra of the Société des Concerts from 1846. He was also a prolific composer of chamber music, character pieces and transcriptions for violin, as well as sacred choral and vocal music.

( Alphonsine Geneviève ) Laure Dancla [ Déliphard ] ( b. Bagnères de Bigorre on 1 June 1824 d. Tarbes on 22 March l 1880 ) Pianist and Teacher and sister of Charles Dancla. She studied at the Conservatoire and won a premier prix in solfège in 1837. She played chamber music with her brothers and taught music in Tarbes ( in the Pyrenees ) for many years. Some of her piano pieces and songs were published in Paris.

Pierre Baillot de Sales ( b. in Passy nr.Paris 1771 d. Later on ) Son of a schoolmaster, he started the violin with a pupil of Nardini. Greatly admired Viotti, who helped ( Baillot ) to secure a place in the orchestra at the Theate Feydeau, though Baillot abandoned this post to become a government official. In 1795 he returned to the music profession, studying composition with Cherubini. His playing was distinguished by a noble and powerful tone and a truly musical style. He toured Europe as soloist achieving considerable success. Mendelssohn praised the performance of his (M's) octet lead by Baillot as the finest he had ever heard. Two of Baillot's most famous pupils were Charles Dancla and Françoise Habeneck.

Cherubini Composer and Teacher of Composition. Cherubini was an old friend ( after having set up house together ) of Viotti, until the latter ( Viotti ) in 1819 was named director of the Royal Opera house ( which also entailed the directorate of the Theatre Italien ) - Cherubini had aspired to the same post, and this nearly put an end to their friendship. But Alas, the two Theatres, both on the verge of bakruptcy and in decline failed and Viotti was discharged after only 3 troubled years. Cherubini, however, went on to become the ruthless director of the Paris Conservatoire : On one instance he refused Massart entrance to the conservatoire ( even though Massart had been awarded a municipal scholarship to study there ).

Françoise Habeneck.( 1781 - 1849 ) Started his career at the age of 10 as a violinist he later became a great conductor. Pioneered performances of Beethoven Symphonies in Paris during the 1820s, after becoming director of the Société des Concerts at the Paris Conservatoire. Habeneck's pupils were Delphin Alard ( teacher of Sarasate ) , Léonard, Prume and Sainton.

Hubert Léonard ( Bellaire, Belgium April 7, 1819 d.Paris May 6, 1890 ) Pupil of Habeneck at the Paris Conservatoire. Numerous tours of Germany, introducing the Mendelssohn concerto at Berlin in 1844, under the composer's baton. Became successor to de Beriot at the Brussels Conservatory, resigning in 1867 due to illness. He taught César Thomson, Henri Marteau, Martin Marsick and Ovide Musin. Leonard composed several concertos and concert pieces as well as studies for the violin. One of the most brilliant virtuosi of his time.

Maud Powell ( 1868 Illinois - 1920 ) American father, German mother. Studied with Schradieck at the Leipzig Conservatoire where she received her diploma. She was then selected ( out of 80 applicants ) for a place at the Paris Conservatoire to study with Charles Dancla. She is known to have said that Dancla taught her to be an artist. She was the first American woman to earn an international reputation as a violinist. Gave the first performance of Dvorák's violin concerto in New York for the Philharmonic Society. Founded her own string quartet.

Places, Events and Oddities

Paris Conservatoire in the 1890s observed its first centenary. Ridden with traditions and a steadfast curriculum, this faculty had no mandatory retirement age.. curious when French musicians are noted for their longevity : At the Conservatoire Massart retired at 80, Sauzay at 84, and Dancla at 75. The post of professeur carried great prestige, though it was poorly paid. As Flesch once put it, "once a teacher had succeeded in getting on the staff he clung firmly to his post until he had one foot in the grave". In the later 19th century alone, the Conservatoire produced some of the most extraordinary violinist of all time ; Wieniawski, Sarasate and Kreisler.

The Charles Dancla String School intends to amplify and revise this document. If you would like to check back, note the version number at the top to see if any alterations or revisions have taken place.



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Last modified: January 20, 2001