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The life of French harpsichordist Huguette Dreyfus, Part 2: La Grande Dame de Clavecin

March 23, 2023
Huguette Dreyfus and friends
Huguette Dreyfus, Robert Veyron Lacroix, Gustav Leonhardt, Ruggero Gerlin, Kenneth Gilbert, and Janos Sebestyen in 1975 (photo courtesy of Robert Tifft)

Born in New York City, Sally Gordon-Mark has French and American citizenships, lives in Europe, and is an independent writer, researcher, and translator. She is also a musician—her professional life began in Hollywood as the soprano of a teenage girl group, The Murmaids, whose hit record, Popsicles & Icicles, is still played on air and sold on CDs. Eventually she worked for Warner Bros. Records, Francis Coppola, and finally Lucasfilm Ltd., in charge of public relations and promotions, before a life-changing move to Paris in 1987. There Sally played harpsichord for the first time, thanks to American concert artist Jory Vinikour, her friend and first teacher. He recommended she study with Huguette Dreyfus, which she had the good fortune to do during the last three years before Huguette retired from the superieur regional conservatory of Rueil-Malmaison, remaining a devoted friend until Huguette passed away.

During Sally’s residence in France, she organized a dozen Baroque concerts for the historical city of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, worked as a researcher for books published by several authors and Yale University, and being trilingual, served as a translator of early music CD booklets for musicians and Warner Classic Records. She also taught piano privately and at the British School of Paris on a regular basis. In September 2020 she settled in Perugia, Italy. In May 2023 Sally will be the guest editor of the British Harpsichord Society’s e-magazine Sounding Board, devoted entirely to the memory of Huguette Dreyfus. For more information: www.sallygordonmark.com.

Read Part 1 here.

You had to be crazy to want a career. It was impossible to see what the possibilities were.

—Huguette Dreyfus1

In 1950 Huguette Dreyfus was finding it difficult without a harpsichord of her own, a situation making it expensive to practice—a crucial problem in her case, since, like others in her generation, her training had been on the piano. She had just discovered the harpsichord in her first year (1949–1950) of Norbert Dufourcq’s music history class at the Paris Conservatory, then located on rue de Madrid. That year, he focused on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Pleyel loaned him a harpsichord for his classroom. He also created an unofficial harpsichord class at the conservatory, taught by his former student, Jacqueline Masson. To practice, Huguette rented a rehearsal room upstairs in the Salle Pleyel concert hall, at 8:00 a.m. several days a week.2

During Ruggero Gerlin’s summer classes at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, which she attended from 1953 through 1959, Huguette was always among the few students who were invited to perform a short program in the end-of-term concerts in September. Finding time to rehearse on the class harpsichord, a contemporary one with pedals by an obscure Italian maker named Cella, was difficult because it was shared by all of Ruggero Gerlin’s students, so Huguette resorted to practicing discreetly during the Italian siesta from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.3

Huguette conferred with her mother Marguerite and her brother Pierre, knowing that it would be too expensive for the now fatherless family4 to purchase a new harpsichord. Her brother asked a friend who frequented auction houses to let him know if a double-manual harpsichord ever came up for sale. Nothing happened for a long time. Then in late 1957, Pierre found what was purported to be an original eighteenth-century Nicolas Blanchet double-manual harpsichord in a shop specializing in eighteenth-century French antiques—probably Maurice Bensimon’s at 5 rue Royale in Paris. Little was known about the instrument, except that it had once been in the collection of Raymond Russell. It was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in June 1956 to Pelham Galleries in London, and according to the gallery owner’s son, Alan Rubin, Bensimon was a client of Pelham’s.5

On January 16, 1958, Huguette flew to London to accompany violinist Madeleine Massart in a concert the next day at the French Institute. She may have met with Raymond Russell, because his address is noted in her agenda. Before flying home on January 25, she went to see the instrument collections at Fenton House and the Victoria & Albert Museum, for which Russell had recently written the catalogs. It is not known when her harpsichord was delivered or from where, but her agenda reveals that in March she was frequently in touch with Marcel Asseman, the harpsichord technician for Pleyel, Erard, and the Salle Gaveau. He worked on the instrument, but it is not known what he did.6 In an interview, Huguette admitted that when she first touched its keys, after having played Pleyel and Neupert harpsichords, she wondered how she would ever be able to play “the beast.” It had plectra made of plumes, making for a different attack. Huguette adapted to it: “This historical instrument was a good teacher for me. It completely changed my touch.”7

Huguette entered the international music competition in Geneva, Switzerland, in March 1958, and soon after gave her first radio interview on a French program, La Discothèque classique, which aired on July 29. She went to Siena as usual for her summer classes with Ruggero Gerlin at the Accademia Chigiana, and from there went directly to Geneva. 

The 14th Concours d’exécution musicale opened on September 20, 1958. Huguette arrived there alone and exhausted, and she could not speak at all as she had laryngitis. Seven harpsichord contestants had signed up—four women, three men. The first round was on stage with no audience. The players were separated by a curtain from the jury, composed of Isabelle Nef, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Thurston Dart, Ruggero Gerlin, Aimée Van de Wiele, Eta Harich-Schneider, and Eduard Müller. (With the exception of Dart and Müller, with whom Gustav Leonhardt had studied for a year, all had been students of Wanda Landowska.) The players were instructed to remain still and silent. Jill Severs, also a contestant, remembers that one of the men wore velvet slippers for playing the pedals. Huguette played a Bach prelude and fugue on a Neupert. Its sonority disturbed her, and she realized during the fugue that a coupler had been left only halfway in position. But, by listening to the music and playing with total concentration, Huguette maintained her composure.

The second round took place on October 1 at 2:00 p.m. in the conservatory auditorium. Huguette, the only remaining contestant, played before a paying audience a program of obligatory pieces by Bach, Scarlatti, and Rameau, finishing with three Mikrokosmos pieces by Bartók. The last round, a public recital, took place on October 3 in Victoria Hall:

Miss Dreyfus (France), harpsichordist, opened the round with the Concerto in G Major of Haydn, which seemed Lilliputian in the nave of Victoria Hall. Meticulous performance, faultless register, sometimes too weak given the surroundings, and a little prosaic over all.8

There was no winner in the harpsichord competition that year, but Huguette did receive a silver medal. Nonetheless, she was invited to perform in a concert of laureates in her hometown of Mulhouse on October 10, 1958. She received 10,000 francs for her performance of the Haydn Concerto in G. The fact that she did not win first prize did not diminish the attention that her distinction in the competition brought her. In her biography, the silver medal eventually metamorphosed into a gold one or a first prize, possibly at the insistence of her record labels because of the crucial importance given to credentials in France. 

Huguette continued traveling to Siena for summer lessons with Gerlin through 1959. On September 13, 1955, she and Jill Severs, who, like Huguette, had been coming since 1953, performed a four-hand piece written by Ferenc Sulvok, a Hungarian composition student at the Academy that summer. Another classmate was Kenneth Gilbert; the three became lifelong friends. Normally, the courses were limited to four summers, but on July 16, 1957, Gerlin wrote to Huguette, “Two words quickly to let you know that I obtained authorization from the Academy to bring back my former students to continue taking my courses for an unlimited number of times!”9 He invited her and Sylvie Spycket to attend and said he was happy to have acquired a Neupert harpsichord for Bach’s music, which delighted the students, too, because the Cella had been a difficult instrument to play expressively due to its hard touch.10

At the time, the important harpsichordists in France were Pauline Aubert, Marcelle Charbonnier, Marcelle Delacour, Marguérite Roesgen-Champion, Aimée Van de Wiele, and Robert Veyron-Lacroix, who played Pleyel or other contemporary harpsichords. Copies of historical harpsichords were not being made then in France. In October 1959, Huguette started meeting regularly with Michel Bernstein, founder of Valois Records and later Astrée, which specialized in early music played on period instruments. It was her former professor of musical aesthetics, Alexis Roland-Manuel, who had told Bernstein about Huguette. She invited Bernstein to her apartment so she could play her own harpsichord for him. Bernstein was dazzled; he had never heard a period harpsichord before. He asked her to sign a contract with Valois, one of the first record labels—along with Erato, Harmonia Mundi (France), and Archiv—founded after the first vinyl LP record had been invented in 1948.11

There were reservations on Huguette’s part as to whether she was ready to record, but Gerlin encouraged her to go ahead and would help her by giving her extra lessons in Paris. On February 3, 1960, Huguette gave her first solo performance on the radio in the ensemble Norbert Dufourcq created, Histoire et Musique, composed of interested musicians and former students. With an immense and inspiring enthusiasm, Dufourcq presented the program: 

We and our young artists are hunting for early music manuscripts, hidden among thousands of documents, to get them published. What a joy it is for us! . . . I have tried to impart to my students the noble objective of reconstituting and reviving this music from texts that we have to transcribe.12

This is exactly what Huguette did; she played six pieces by D’Agincourt, which had not been published since 1733. 

Between April 26 and 28, 1960, Huguette recorded her first LPs for Valois in Copenhagen on a Bengaard harpsichord with pedals, which was felt by Michel Bernstein and Huguette to have the closest sound to a period one. François Couperin’s Pièces de clavecin, Livre II, sixième et onzième ordres (Valois, MB 798) was released in 1962 and received the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque de l’Académie Charles Cros, the first of many prizes her albums would receive.

Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin by Jean-Philippe Rameau (Valois, MB 920) followed that year. The LP received a favorable review in one of France’s leading newspapers:

On an excellent modern harpsichord of Danish fabrication, Huguette Dreyfus plays the Nouvelles Suites de pièces written for the harpsichord by J.-P. Rameau. Huguette Dreyfus is one of the rare contemporary virtuosos who know how to draw out of the harpsichord all its resources of sound and plunge the listener into the true atmosphere of compositions from the past.13

Huguette made her first appearance on national French television, resplendent in an eighteenth-century dress and wig, on March 30, 1961. In the program, Voyage au pays de la musique, she played La Poule by Rameau.14 Soon afterwards, Huguette played her first solo recital on April 7, 1961, in Lyon’s Salle Witkowski and received an enthusiastic review in a local newspaper:

Miss Huguette Dreyfus gave to her audience (more numerous than had been hoped for) a beautiful harpsichord recital (of music by Chambonnières, François Couperin, J. S. Bach, and Scarlatti). . . . Miss Dreyfus revealed herself as the most exquisite and energetic of harpsichordists. Faultless technique, quivering sensitivity, elegant style, and continual accuracy.15

In 1962 she met a harpsichord maker from Grasse, Claude Mercier-Ythier, who had just opened a shop and studio in Paris specializing entirely in the sale and rental of harpsichords, À la corde pincée, the first of its kind in France since the French Revolution. It was a pivotal meeting for both, as their amicable professional association would last over forty-five years. At the time, he represented the harpsichord manufacturer Neupert, a competitor of Pleyel that gradually stopped making harpsichords by the early 1960s. Claude restored a 1754 Henri Hemsch that would become Huguette’s favorite performing instrument for concerts, summer workshops, and recordings. When Huguette toured in Europe, he often traveled with her, bringing an instrument, as Huguette never traveled with her own. Claude enjoyed telling the story of having saved Huguette on tour, when the man next to her grabbed her skirt under the dinner table and would not let go when she got up to leave.16

Huguette’s career was blossoming that year; she was concertizing in France and abroad, and her first records were successful. During her long and rich career, Huguette would tour the United States, Canada, South America, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Japan, and most of Europe. She would perform in concerts and on recordings with other illustrious artists and conductors, including friends and former students: András Adorján, Marie-Claire Alain, Olivier Baumont, Nadia Boulanger, Pierre Boulez, René Clemencic, Alfred Deller, Ruggero Gerlin, Marie-Claire Jamet, Christian Lardé (with whom she recorded twelve albums), Lily Laskine, Yannick Le Gaillard, Maxence Larrieu, Gaston Maugras, Eduard Melkus (ten albums), Yehudi Menuhin, Pierre Pierlot, Rafael Puyana, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Luciano Sgrizzi, Henryk Szeryng, Luigi Fernando Tagliavini, and Blandine Verlet.

The ensembles she performed in regularly included the Quatuor Instrumental de Lutèce with flautist Jacques Royer, oboist Emile Mayousse, and cellist Jean Deferrieux; Norbert Dufourcq’s ensemble, Musique et Histoire; the Paul Kuentz Orchestra; and the other principal Parisian orchestras: L’Orchestre Lamoureux, Le Collegium Musicum de Paris, directed by Roland Douatte, the bassoonist Fernand Oubradous’ chamber orchestra, and an ensemble that gave private concerts, Fiori musicali, created and conducted by Robert Dalsace.

On May 24, 1962, she and Christian Lardé played with Yehudi Menuhin in an ensemble directed by Nadia Boulanger,17 in a performance for the Singer-Polignac Foundation.18 It may be that Irene Kedroff, whose vocal class Huguette had accompanied for several years at the Ecole Normale de Musique, had recommended Huguette; she had been the soprano in a quartet directed by Nadia Boulanger for many years before World War II. On another occasion, in an undated letter to Huguette from her office in the Fontainebleau castle, Miss Boulanger invited her to perform in a tribute to architect Louis Le Vau by the Institut de France: “It would give me a particular pleasure to organize this concert with the gracious participation of a small group of eminent artists.”19

Huguette’s collaboration with orchestra conductor Paul Kuentz (in his 90s, he is still conducting his orchestra in Paris) gave another boost to her career—over a period of ten years, she was a featured soloist in his orchestra, going on her first tour in 1962. They performed throughout France and Belgium. The Festival Franco-Allemand de la Jeunesse took them to Cap d’Ail on the Côte d’Azur for three days in December. While Paul Kuentz’s orchestra was rehearsing, Jean Cocteau was decorating the outdoor amphitheater. In a friendly gesture, Cocteau designed the cover of their program and posed for a photograph with the orchestra.20

In 1952, a Dominican priest named Henri Jarrié21 was appointed chaplain to the artists’ colony in Nice, where he knew Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, and others. His love of music would have significant consequences for Huguette’s career in the 1960s. Being an amateur musician and composer, he supported the Fédération internationale des Jeunesses musicales by helping to organize concerts, such as those by the Kuentz Orchestra, and conference-concerts. In 1961, Father Jarrié became vicar of the Dominicans living in Saint-Maximin-La-Baume. The thirteenth-century Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin is home to a magnificent and historic organ with 2,692 pipes, constructed in the late eighteenth century by Jean Esprit Isnard, a Dominican brother, and his nephew, Joseph. Father Jarrié and Dr. Pierre Rochas undertook raising the funds necessary for its restoration. Philippe Bardon, one of the students in Huguette’s final class at the Conservatory of Rueil-Malmaison, now holds the title of organist at the basilica in Saint-Maximin.

The convent22 had been put up for sale by the Dominicans, and during the period in which it remained unsold, Father Jarrié opened its buildings to a summer academy and concerts. Dr. Rochas and others created the l’Académie d’été de l’orgue classique français, and Father Jarrié, with the collaboration of Bernard Coutaz, the founder of the record label Harmonia Mundi (France), created a series of concerts in the cloisters, which evolved into the annual festival, Les Soirées de musique française, the first opportunity for the modern French public to hear Baroque music.23 Huguette regularly performed there, as did Eduard Melkus, Christian Lardé, Marie-Claire Jamet, and other eminent artists. In the audiences were intellectuals and artists who flocked to the convent every year, and this certainly helped her and others become known in the 1960s. Alfred Deller, signed to Harmonia Mundi, and Huguette performed a program of English Baroque music one year. In 1971, Father Jarrié left the priesthood to become a music teacher, giving Huguette a harpsichord piece that he had composed for her, Trois plaisanteries.24

In 1963, Huguette and the Kuentz orchestra toured Canada and the eastern United States, performing mostly for universities. In the orchestra the year before, she had met flautist Christian Lardé, and they formed a trio with Jean Lamy on viola da gamba. They performed in concerts and recorded for Valois, with frequent appearances on radio and television. Their LP, Pièces de clavecin en concerts by Rameau (Valois, MB 798), released in 1963, received the Grand Prix de l’Académie du Disque Français and the Grand Prix des Discophiles in 1964. By then, Huguette had already recorded fifteen albums released on the labels Valois, Erato, and Harmonia Mundi, the latter two acting as distributors for Valois.25

In 1965 Huguette met Eduard Melkus26 during her first summer of teaching at the Summer Organ Academy of Classical French Music27 in Saint-Maximin-La-Baume, which also offered workshops in harpsichord, flute, and chamber music. During the 1950s, the Viennese violinist had been one of a group of Austrian musicians and composers who, under the influence of Josef Mertin, professor at the Vienna Musikhochschule, created the Originalklangbewegung or “original sound movement.” This group also included René Clemencic, founder of the ensemble Musica Antiqua in 1958. The movement would influence Gustav Leonhardt, then a professor at the Vienna Music Academy, and Nikolaus and Alice Harnoncourt, all of whom Melkus, also a professor at the Academy, introduced to Mertin. 

Eduard had come to Saint-Maximin with his friend Lionel Rogg; the two were recording an LP together, Sonates galantes, for Harmonia Mundi, which had a recording studio in the convent. Huguette passed by during a rehearsal, they introduced each other, and she and Eduard ended up improvising. Out of this spontaneous combustion came a professional partnership that spanned over forty years and a close friendship that would last for the rest of Huguette’s life. They would regularly perform together in France, Austria, and abroad. She would often be a guest soloist with his chamber orchestra, the Capella Academica Wien, performing in Vienna’s prestigious Albertina Museum concert hall. Among the thirteen albums they recorded together were the “Mystery Sonatas” by Biber and award-winning LPs of Haydn trios that were recorded in Vienna, Huguette playing a historic fortepiano from Paul Badura-Skoda’s collection.28

In 1967, the head of Valois Records, Michel Bernstein, launched a promotional campaign for his agents, announcing:

Since the artist’s career is becoming more and more international, and (her) records have received excellent reviews everywhere and are retransmitted on national radio, we are organizing a month of a Promotion Huguette Dreyfus, which will last from May 1st until the 31st 1967. Everyone knows Huguette Dreyfus counts among the four or five greatest harpsichordists in the world, alongside Kirkpatrick, Puyana, Malcolm and Ružicková. And on a purely national level, there’s no artist her equal.29

That year, Huguette’s career was soaring, but the happiness that its success brought her was shattered by the sudden premature death of her beloved brother Pierre on May 2. He was only forty-six, and they had been very close. A surgeon, he had a sudden heart attack during an operation. Six months later, her mother passed away at the age of sixty-five. Huguette carried on with her busy schedule, but it took a long time for her to recover from her grief. She would spend the rest of her life in the apartment on Quai d’Orsay by Pont Alma that her father had purchased for the family in 1949.30 At some point, she made the difficult decision not to marry, convinced that marriage was incompatible with a career, perhaps impossible if she were to have children.

The 1970s would be the apogee of the harpsichord renaissance in France. “Standing room only” was commonplace. People would wait two hours in line and still be content if they could stand in the back when all the seats were taken.31 The City of Paris hosted the annual Festival Estival de Paris and the semi-annual Concours international pour clavecin. In 1974, the Forum international du clavecin, sponsored by the Festival Estival, took place in Paris, featuring harpsichord makers and artists; among the soloists were Huguette, her former student Blandine Verlet, and Rafaël Puyana.32 Huguette sat on the jury of the concours many times, along with other distinguished harpsichordists like Kenneth Gilbert, Zuzana Ružicková, Scott Ross, and Rafaël Puyana.

In 1971 she left Valois Records to sign with Archiv, Eduard Melkus’s record label, which had released their recording of the Biber sonatas. He encouraged her to do so. One of her motives was her belief that she would have the chance to record Bach’s keyboard pieces in their entirety.33 But it was her friend Zuzana Ružicková who had been given that opportunity by Erato.34 Michel Bernstein would always remain bitter about what he considered her betrayal.35 Huguette maintained that she had not abandoned him, that it was a reasonable decision in light of the evolution of her career. Valois, a small company, did not have its own distribution network and could not afford her the same benefits as Archiv, the early music division of its parent company, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, Deutsche Grammophon being its classical division.

In May 1973, Huguette performed in the Fifth International Harpsichord Festival in Rome. It was a prestigious event; its concerts in the Basilica of Saint Cecilia were given by some of the twentieth century’s greatest harpsichordists: Huguette, William Christie, Gustav Leonhardt, Colin Tilney, and Kenneth Gilbert. The following year, Henryk Szeryng personally telephoned Huguette to invite her to go on tour with him in Italy in May. Because Szeryng was an international celebrity, Huguette was billed as his accompanist, and his agent accordingly booked her into an inferior hotel. Szeryng was outraged and covered the expense himself for her to have a room in his own hotel.36

Huguette’s student and eventual close friend, Yannick Guillou, was on holiday in Venice then, and they all enjoyed meals and museum visits together. The last day, Guillou went to the hotel to say goodbye while Huguette and Szeryng were preparing to leave for Rome. Someone at the reception desk told Guillou that Szeryng wanted to see him: “I went up and found this master whom I’d venerated since my youth (. . .) dressed only in his shoes, black socks, underpants, and a towel around his neck.”

Szeryng dictated a press release to him, announcing that the City of Venice had made him a Commanditore, telling him to deliver it the next morning. Time was passing, and an irritated Huguette knocked impatiently on the door to remind Szeryng that they had a train to catch. When Guillou, peeking around the door, said she could not enter the room because Szeryng was in his underwear, she replied, “I saw worse horrors during the war,” pushed the door wide open, and strode in.37 They would perform together on many other occasions and record an album of Handel and Corelli. Szeryng told Melkus that he considered her the best harpsichordist in France.38

Huguette and Szeryng were invited to play in the seventy-fifth anniversary concert season at Wigmore Hall in London along with Arthur Rubinstein, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julian Bream, and other illustrious performers. In June 1977, they performed a program of Bach sonatas; she played Bach’s Partita Number 2 for her solo. Lionel Salter in a review for The Gramophone, wrote: “Her phrasing is musical, her touch varied, and her registration, while subtly varied, is an object lesson to harpsichordists with fidgety feet or who are afraid to let the music speak for itself!”39

Huguette was considered France’s pre-eminent harpsichordist. In 1978 Alfred Deller wrote to Huguette, asking if she would be interested in their performing together in a duo, to which she responded enthusiastically. Over the years, they had concertized and recorded together, and he had joined her in Saint-Maximin to give masterclasses. Deller proposed a ten-day tour in the 1979–1980 season.40 Unfortunately this project never came to fruition; he passed away on July 16, 1979.

The Japanese flautist Miwako Shirao Rey made Huguette’s acquaintance while studying with Christian Lardé at the academy in Saint-Maximin. In the summer of 1978, Huguette called on her for assistance when the director of the group Tokyo Solisten came to Paris to discuss Huguette’s agreement to perform in concert with them in Japan the following year. Miwako acted as translator and helped to make the arrangements.41 The invitation had originated with Mariko Oguino Oikawa, soloist in the ensemble, a friend of Miwako’s and Huguette’s first Japanese student. She had come to her for private lessons between 1971 and 1974, while studying at the Paris Conservatory with Robert Veyron-Lacroix. Mariko accompanied Huguette to Japan in 1979 to assist her.42 The concert with Huguette and the Tokyo Solisten took place on April 23, and Huguette gave a solo recital the next day. On April 29 Huguette and the Tokyo Solisten recorded three concerti of Johann Christian Bach for Columbia Records; the CD was released by Denon. 

Huguette returned to Japan in 1981 to give a concert on April 10. A reviewer remarked: “Elegant and audacious, and full of liveliness at each moment, her music satisfied us with the charming sound of the harpsichord.”43

In 1982 Huguette signed a contract with the Tokyo-based Denon label for whom she would record over thirty LPs and CDs.44 She stayed for a month in 1983, spending time with the Oikawa couple and their child Reine, who later studied intermittently with Huguette and is now a harpsichordist in Japan.45

Sometimes in her travels and concerts, the inevitable mishaps that plague every traveling artist occurred. Once on a makeshift stage when she stood up to take a bow, she found that one of her spiked heels had caught in the planks. Smiling, she slipped her foot out, took her bow, and walked off stage, with one foot on tiptoe. Another time, during a performance of a Bach concerto for four harpsichords, the page turner of the player next to her turned the page too soon, causing the player to lose her place and stop. With presence of mind and a practiced gift for improvisation, Huguette played her colleague’s part while maintaining her own until the woman could resume playing. When Huguette traveled to meet Eduard Melkus, his favorite gift from her was cheese, a gift that Zuzana Ružicková and her husband, composer Victor Kalabis, also appreciated. So Huguette never left home without a selection of fine French cheese. Once, however, her suitcase got lost by the airlines, and she had to wait a couple days in fear that her one evening gown would turn up, reeking of rancid cheese. Fortunately when the suitcase arrived, she found that the cheese had been successfully shrink-wrapped, so her gown was safe.46

Huguette continued to give concerts until, for reasons of health, she stopped in January 2009, after seventy years of performing in public, something she had loved to do since childhood. The day of a concert, if she was out of town, she would visit a museum. Otherwise, she would devote her attention to the upcoming concert and rehearse in the morning.

I believe a lot in the relationship between music and other forms of beauty and of art. If it is possible, before a concert, I stop concentrating on the technical execution for a moment and look outside the music for other sources of beauty—an art exhibit, architecture, a landscape, contemplation that is good for the soul and for musical interpretation. It is like giving water to a flower for it to bloom easily.47

When she stepped onstage, she could immediately feel if the audience was receptive to her or not, or just indifferent. “The artist has to make contact without forgetting the music.”48 When she did make contact, she rejoiced in the “success of love” even if she was dissatisfied with her performance.49 As she told harpsichordist Richard Siegel, “If you touch someone in the audience, that’s what counts.”50 Love, on many different levels, was what she wanted to communicate when she played. It was as if she were on fire, as if she could hardly contain the music’s energy inside her. You knew she was not thinking of individual notes when she played; she had already studied the music thoroughly, mastering its complexities, its style. It was as if she were the conduit for electric, irrepressible currents of music, flowing from a distant inexhaustible source. Whether Huguette played a Scarlatti sonata rapidly and energetically or pieces by François Couperin—La Ménetou in a measured and tender way, and Les Lis naissans very delicately—her performance was always expressive.

Expression is essential no matter what the period of music—expression that touches the soul. Expression in early music approaches speech, the expression
of language

She could play expressively because she was entirely present in whatever she did, giving her total attention. This stemmed from the love and respect she had for life, its creatures, and creative expression . . . a mentality that would also make her an extraordinary teacher.

To be continued.


1. Huguette Dreyfus, radio interview, Musiciens pour demain, France Musique, July 1979. 

2. Agendas, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Site Richelieu, VM FONDS 145 DRE-3 (5).

3. Huguette Dreyfus, interview by Denis Herlin, December 8, 2008.

4. Huguette’s father, Fernand Dreyfus, was struck and killed by a car in front of their apartment building on October 10, 1951. (Interview with Françoise Dreyfus, July 25, 2016.)

5. Alan Rubin, email to author, March 14, 2021.

6. Jean-Claude Battault, interview with author, Cité de la Musique, Paris, March 9, 2022. 

7. Huguette Dreyfus, radio interview, France Musique, July 29, 1996. 

8. Journal de Genève, No. 232, October 4–5, 1958.

9. Ruggero Gerlin, BnF, VM FONDS 145 DRE-1 (16).

10. Jill Severs, interviews with author, August 8, August 24, and September 6, 2022.

11. Michel Bernstein, Qobuz e-magazine, Les souvenirs de Michel Bernstein (VII), “Être toujours à la pointe,” https://www.qobuz.com/be-fr/info/magazine-actualites%2Fchers-disparus%2Fles-souvenirs-de-michel-bernstein32073.

12. Norbert Dufourcq, Concerts de Paris, radio program, March 31, 1960, Inathèque de France (INA), BnF, site Mitterand, Paris.

13. Colette Arnould, La Libération, Friday, May 12, 1961. 

14. Inathèque de France (INA), ID Notice CPF86642589, BnF, site Mitterand, Paris.

15. Le Dauphiné Libére, April 12, 1961.

16. Claude Mercier-Ythier, interview with author, August 5, 2016.

17. BnF VM FONDS 145 DRE-1 (19). Nadia Boulanger was one of the founding members in 1921 of the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau and its director from 1948 until her death in 1979.

18. Concert program in author’s collection. The Princess of Polignac was born Winnaretta Singer. Her father, Isaac Merritt Singer, the sewing machine manufacturer, bequeathed her a fortune, and she became the predominant patron of the most important creative people in Paris, primarily musicians, before her death in 1943. The foundation still sponsors concerts, symposiums, and other cultural events.

19. BnF VM FONDS 145 DRE-1 (19).

20. Paul Kuentz, interview by author, Paris, France, 2017. 

21. Arcade Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, October 2007. https://www.yumpu.com/fr/document/read/5783360/henri-jarrie-arcade-paca

22. The convent is now a hotel. The term “convent” applied originally to the structure that housed priests in orders—not monks who lived in monasteries—and nuns. It is only in recent history that the meaning changed, applying only to nuns.

23. The festival in Aix en Provence had been created in 1948, but there was no emphasis on early music.

24. Conserved in the departmental archives of the Var region, No. 64 J 1-171-64 J 25.

25. “Huguette Dreyfus, Complete Discography,” compiled by Sally Gordon-Mark, https://www.dolmetsch.com/huguettedreyfusdiscography.htm.

26. In his nineties at the time of publication of this article, Eduard is still conducting his orchestra in concert.

27. The Academy summer workshops still exist, but only organ classes are given. 

28. Eduard Melkus, conversations with author from 2016 to 2022. 

29. BnF, site Richelieu, VM FONDS 145 DRE-3 (12). 

30. Françoise Dreyfus, op. cit.

31. Mario Raskin, interview with author, October 17, 2022.

32. Information from programs in the author’s collection.

33. Eduard Melkus, op. cit.

34. Ružicková was the only harpsichordist to have recorded Bach’s work in its entirety. A box-set of all the discs was released by Warner Classics in 2016.

35. Michel Bernstein, Qobuz, op. cit. 

36. Eduard Melkus, op. cit. 

37. Yannick Guillou, letter to author, March 2, 2017.

38. Eduard Melkus, op. cit.

39. Lionel Salter, The Gramophone, BnF, VM 145 FONDS DRE-5 (3).

40. Alfred Deller, letter to Huguette Dreyfus, BnF VM FONDS DRE-1 (3).

41. Miwako Shirai Rey, email to author, October 21, 2022.

42. Miwako Shirai Rey, phone interview by author, August 16, 2022. 

43. Shigeru Oikawa, interviews by author and written account, dated September
25, 2017.

44. “Huguette Dreyfus, Complete Discography,” op. cit.

45. Aozawa Tadao, Ongaku-no-Tomo. April 1981.

46. Anecdotes related by Huguette Dreyfus to the author.

47. Huguette Dreyfus, interview, Corriere dell’Umbria, February 18, 1999. Translated from Italian to English by the author.

48. Huguette Dreyfus, interview, France Musique, July 29, 1996.

49. Huguette Dreyfus, interview, 1979, op. cit. 

50. Richard Siegel, phone interview, summer 2021. 

51. From author’s notes of conversations with Huguette Dreyfus.

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