University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Pougin Collection

Volume III · Spring 1948 · Number 3         
The Pougin Collection

The Pougin Collection of some three thousand items forms the nucleus of the material at the Sibley Music Library and at Rush Rhees Library on the French theater and opera of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The story of Pougin, the growth of his library, and the acquisition of the collection by the University of Rochester form a story which resembles a fairy tale.

Pougin, the son of an itinerant actor, was born on August 6, 1834, at Châteauroux. He was registered under the rather staggering name of François Auguste Arthur Paroisse-Pougin, which he later shortened to a more usable and less pretentious Arthur Pougin. If one is to believe the glowing account of his early life given in the FétisBiographie Universelle des Musiciens, he was something of an infant wonder, a prodigy whose musical gifts were early recognized by everyone. Even Gustave Chouquet, who is more impersonal, says of him that he "passed through the violin class of Alard" at the Conservatoire de Paris and was able at the tender age of thirteen to take his place as a theatrical violinist. At twenty-one he was conductor of the Théâtre Beaumarchais; at twenty-two vice-conductor and rehearsal-conductor at the Théâtre des Folies-Nouvelles; at twenty-six a violinist at the Opéra-Comique. One would naturally think that Pougin had been destined to be a theater musician, but he had other ideas. By applying himself to study, he cultivated a certain literary style and a fund of musicological knowledge with which he set out to write biographical articles on eighteenth-century French musicians for the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris. By 1863 he had become so engrossed in his writing that he abandoned his position at the Opéra-Comique to devote his time to critical work.

Writing under his own name and such pseudonyms as Paul Dox, Fanfan Benoiton, Maurice Gray, and Octave d'Avril, Pougin was music critic for several journals; he contributed historical and critical studies to Le MénestrelL'Art MusicalLe France MusicaleLe Théâtre, and La Chronique Musicale; he edited the musical articles in theGrand Dictionnaire Universel of Larousse and the Supplément et Complément to the Biographie Universelle des Musiciens of Fétis; he wrote over thirty full-length biographies (the most famous being that of Verdi); he was decorated in 1905 with the Order of the Crown of Italy. As editor-in-chief of the leading French music periodical,Le Ménestrel from 1885 to his death in 1 921‚ and as lecturer on Music History at the Sorbonne from 1896 to 1906, he was a respected critic and teacher. His was a long and glorious career, during which he bettered his condition from that of an ordinary theater musician to that of one of the most esteemed musical writers of France.

During his long career as a writer and editor, he collected many books, a number of which were autographed presentation copies. In a paper presented to the Bibliographical Society of America on April 23, 1923, Mr. Donald Gilchrist, then Librarian of the University, said of the acquisition of the collection that "through the munificence of Mr. Hiram W. Sibley of Rochester [the items] have been added to the Sibley Musical Library of the Eastman School of Music. This collection, known to the bibliophiles and musical writers of France as the Pougin Collection, was offered for sale through Edouard Champion in February of this year, and was purchased for us on the strength of a short cablegram and without any catalogue of the collection having been made." The offer was one of the golden opportunities which perhaps every collector dreams about, but which come to only one in a thousand. Tracing through the records of this sale, one is amazed at the simplicity and speed with which the entire library changed hands. Mr. Gilchrist wrote to M. Champion on February 13, 1923:

I cabled you this morning . . . Will take Pougin library as offered Gerould. Gilchrist."

Mr. Gerould wrote me on February 8th saying that he had received a cable from you offering "library Arthur Pougin author dictionary theatre music over three thousand volumes theatrical and musical history mostly bound some almanacs only copies known no catalog urgent business . . . if not interested communicate wire to Professor Ogden University Cincinnati." At the same time he stated that he had forwarded the information to Ogden of Cincinnati as you requested.

At this point competition enters. It was a gamble to buy an entire collection sight unseen without even as much as a listing of main items. Mr. Gilchrist continues:

I was very much interested in your cable and went to the Eastman School of Music this morning, interviewed the Director and Joseph Bonnet, your famous organist who now is on our faculty, and got their approval to purchase the library provided that Ogden of Cincinnati did not take it. I hope that Ogden misses or is slower than I.

In reply to the letter, sometime around March 9, M. Champion sent the collection to the Eastman School through the firm of Tice and Lynch of New York, stressing in an accompanying letter that "this library POUGIN is…very important, it contains the rarest books on theatre and music, of which I will make no list – the work would take too much time…and also make it known in America that you have acquired this library, as this is sure to bring you a great number of readers." The entire collection was delivered in Rochester on April 16, 1923.

The Pougin library is a selection of the best writing in France on the subjects of the theater and opera during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Of particular interest to music historians is the material concerning the Guerre des Bouffons, or the War of the Comedians, in 1752. "La Guerre" was a heated quarrel between two parties of Paris opera enthusiasts over the respective merits and demerits of the French serious opera and the Italian opera buffa. The King, the Queen, Madame de Pompadour, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Diderot, to mention only a few, were all taking active part. Although in some respects the quarrel later became a tempest in a teapot, it nevertheless did produce a wealth of satirical and critical writings on the subject of opera.

Pougin collected many librettos, some handsomely bound, some autographed by the authors, and some containing letters by the authors to Pougin. The earliest of them, dated 1688, is the Ballet de la Jeunesse with music by Lalande, which had been presented in January, 1686. The entire history of the Parisian theater from the latter part of the seventeenth century through the first decade of the twentieth can be quite easily traced through the four hundred librettos which are now catalogued in the Sibley Music Library. Quite naturally the greatest number of librettos come from the nineteenth century. In addition to operas there are many plays and romans musicaux. About two hundred items deal with the history of the theater, taking into account the structure of the theatrical buildings, staging and setting, the plays themselves, and the criticism of them. Works on theatrical personalities occupy some three hundred separate titles, and include biographical and critical studies of such well-known figures as Bellini, Rossini, and Verdi, to say nothing of the nearly eighty items on the life and works of Wagner.

Theatrical almanacs and yearbooks form a distinctive part of the collection and are not easily duplicated elsewhere. Of these the Agendas des Théâtres de Paris are the most important. M. Champion in his letter to Mr. Gilchrist, March 9, 1923, says:

I am now sending you by separate post, in a small wood box, three little volumes that have not much appearance, but are AGENDAS DES THEATRES, 1735, 1736, 1737. They are the only copy known, and in the trade it is known as "Almanach Pougin" . You will notice at the end of the volume of 1735 a note in Favart Fils' handwriting and a notice by M. Pougin stating that he has found the name of the author, Francois PARFAICT. He adds that these little volumes are extremely rare, the present copy being the only one known.

These were acquired in 1864 by Pougin and are but a small portion of the collection of almanacs which cover quite thoroughly the period from 1735 to the twentieth century.

Periodicals on music dating from the early nineteenth century and covering practically the entire history of nineteenth century French music, are also included. Special subject journals such as the four-volume Revue de la Musique Religieuse, 1845-54, and Le Pianiste, 1833, are items of interest.

That the collection formed the active working library of Pougin is apparent from the many dictionaries of music, lists of famous musicians, catalogues of music and art libraries, and textbooks. Most of the works dealing with the psychological, philosophical, and educational aspects of music are from the late nineteenth century, while works on notation and systems of theory date from the eighteenth century. Although musical instruments as such did not seem to concern Pougin too much, he included about a hundred books on the development of various instruments. Church music, particularly Gregorian chant, occupies some forty volumes, and national music, especially La Marseillaise, is given a prominent part, along with books dealing with the music of the French Revolution. Other books are monographs, critical essays, and isolated works on dancing, pedagogy, aesthetics, etc. A small group of opera scores, piano pieces, and songs, along with some dancing pieces, make up the sum total of the music in the collection.

Pougin's collection, strangely enough, does not include his own published works. Most of the books are in French, a number are in German and Italian, and a few in Dutch, Spanish, and English. The books on music, which make up about two-thirds of the collection, are at the Sibley Music Library, while those on French drama and the theater are at Rush Rhees Library. Both libraries were greatly enriched when Mr. Gilchrist very wisely purchased the Pougin Collection.