Blue Plaques

GOUNOD, Charles (1818-1893)

Plaque erected in 1961 by London County Council at 15 Morden Road, Blackheath, London, SE3 0AA, London Borough of Greenwich

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Composer

Category

Music and Dance

Inscription

CHARLES GOUNOD 1818-1893 COMPOSER stayed here in 1870

Material

Ceramic

The French composer Charles Gounod is remembered chiefly for his operas, particularly Faust (1859). He lived in London for several years, staying initially at 15 Morden Road in Blackheath.

Charles Gounod in 1880, a few years after returning to France from London. He fled to the English capital in 1870 following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War © Popperfoto/Getty Images

FAMOUS WORKS

Born in Paris, Gounod studied first with his mother, a distinguished pianist, and then at the Paris Conservatoire before continuing his studies in Rome. The first public performance of one of his compositions was in 1851, when extracts of his Messe solonelle were heard in London. However, he did not achieve success until 1859 when the opera Faust was performed in Paris.

Later operatic works included Philemon et Beucis (1860) and Roméo et Juliette (1867) but he later turned to oratorios, composing works such as La Rédemption (1882) and Mors et vita (1885). In his final years, he also wrote more liturgical music, including Stabat Mater and the well-known Ave Maria.

GOUNOD IN LONDON

Soon after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Gounod and his family fled to England, arriving in Liverpool in September 1870. His wife and mother returned to France in 1871 but the composer stayed on, living in London for much of the period 1870–74. During this time he conducted concerts at several leading theatres and was appointed the first conductor of the choir now known as the Royal Choral Society. Queen Victoria was among those in the Royal Albert Hall to witness the choir’s first performance in 1872.

Gounod spent most of his time in London at Tavistock House in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury, living with the singer Georgina Weldon. However, Tavistock House was demolished in 1901, and instead Gounod’s blue plaque commemorates his stay at Shirley Lodge, 15 (formerly 8) Morden Road, east of Blackheath village. A large villa, it was built in 1854 for the publisher and bookseller Pelham Richardson, and subsequently leased to the composer by his widow, Mary Jane.  Gounod stayed here shortly after his arrival in England, from early October until mid-November 1870.

Gounod’s relationship with Weldon at Tavistock Square was much gossiped about, and became known as the ‘Weldon affair’. When Gounod returned to his wife in Paris in 1874, Weldon refused to send on his belongings. She eventually relented, but not before she had written her name in crayon on every page of one of his manuscript scores. She then went on to sue him, unsuccessfully, for £10,000. Gounod died in St Cloud, Paris, in 1893.

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