Brotherly brilliance


TWO and a bit pieces of music today to showcase a pair of wonderfully talented brothers.

Renaud and Gautier Capuçon were born in Chambéry, close to the French Alps, in 1976 and 1981 respectively. Their parents were not musicians – their father was a customs officer and their mother a housewife. However both boys showed musical promise early.

Renaud entered the conservatoire in his native city at the age of four, and continued his violin studies at the Paris conservatoire when he was 13. He said in a 2004 interview: ‘My parents supported my decision to make music my life. When I was nine I started practising seriously, and from 12 until recently I practised six hours a day. 

‘I was quite driven, and given the choice now I would do the same again so I don’t feel I lost my childhood. I had a loving family, and growing up in Chambéry and the Alps, I used to do a lot of skiing. In fact, until I was eight I couldn’t decide whether to be a violinist or a champion skier! I think you need that stable base for music – only then can you learn and be inspired.’ 

Here he plays Beethoven’s Violin Romance No 2 in F major, Op 50, a work in one movement which was written in 1798, when Beethoven was living in Vienna and at the start of his composing career. At around the same time he wrote his eighth piano sonata, the ‘Pathétique’, and his first six string quartets. However the Romance was not published until 1805. By that time Beethoven had written (in 1802) and published (in 1803) another Romance, in G major, which was thus entitled No 1 while this earlier work became No 2.

Gautier Capuçon was born five years after Renaud. By that time there was also a sister, Aude, who started learning the piano (she did not take it up professionally). When Gautier showed an interest in music his parents started him with a violin but he didn’t like it. He did not want to play the piano either, so his parents tried him with a cello when he was four, and it was love at first sight. In a 2016 interview he said: ‘Even before the music, I loved the instrument. I thought it was fun. I loved the position, that the cello was almost making one with my body.’ He also studied at the Chambéry and Paris conservatoires.

Capuçon performs on a 1701 cello by Matteo Gofriller, who was active in Venice in 1685-1735. In the same interview, when he had been playing the instrument for 17 years, he described his relationship with the on-loan instrument as a ‘long love story’. The cello presents challenges. ‘But when you know it, there is no limit on the colours you can find,’ he said. ‘Even after 17 years of playing, it’s always a cello that is demanding. You always need to work on it. It’s unbelievable.’

Here he plays Méditation, a symphonic intermezzo from the 1894  opera Thaïs by French composer Jules Massenet. The piece was originally written for violin and orchestra but has been transcribed for several other instruments. This performance was part of the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris on July 14, 2015.

The age difference meant that the brothers did not engage musically much with each other until Gautier was about 18. Now they occasionally play together in piano trios. Here is a snippet from the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio No 7, the ‘Archduke’, with pianist Frank Braley.


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