Remembering the great violinist Christian Ferras.

April 14, 2006 at 05:33 PM · I bought a DVD of Christian Ferras' playing. The Sibelius recording in 1965 is outstanding. His Faure is also very nice as well as an interesting performance of the Hora Staccato.

I was saddened to read that he only lived to 49 and took his own life. I am interested in reading your impressions of this violinist, any concerts of his you went to, lessons, anecdotes, thanks.

The DVD, for those who are wanting to know, is the folling:



Replies (49)

April 14, 2006 at 07:59 PM · I have to say his playing of the mendelssohn in the art of violin was alluring, i didnt know that about his life

April 15, 2006 at 12:15 AM · Hello!

His Sibelius is amazing..Very colourfull.I didn't know that he took his own life,so sad.........

April 15, 2006 at 05:25 AM · I'd recommend to read his biography "le violon d'Icare" by Thierry de CHOUDENS. It's only published in French. But well written!

You shall also watch the DVD "Christian Ferras in Recital" by VAI. This compilation of material shows off all the unique talents of him, close-ups of his huge hands, impeccable technique, strong emotional projection, exaltation of the singing line. Just watch his performances of Debussy's sonata for violin & piano and Ravel's Tzigane. This is a performance to study and to savor! And a blazing peroration that will lift you off your comfortable seat.

April 15, 2006 at 05:46 AM · I was watching the DVD again last night..great stuff. I noticed in the Hora Staccato that Ferras inclines the bow toward the bridge and lifts his fingers off the bow for the down bow staccato, then reverses for the up bow (bow now tilted toward the fingerboard). Is this how down bow staccato is done? I remember seeing Heifetz doing a similar thing.


April 15, 2006 at 10:50 PM · One thing about Ferras that had not been mentioned is that his right hand (elbow & arm area) looks uncomfortably high. Well, if it works for him, that's fine.

August 15, 2006 at 07:30 AM · I've been thinking of Ferras lately when this morning I saw him on one of the cable stations playing one of the Bach Partitas. What magnificent playing! I didn't know he took his own life. I found this short biography from the Strings Magazine page. Sad indeed!

August 15, 2006 at 09:38 PM · He had the IMO better Lekeu great great violin sonata!

August 16, 2006 at 01:20 AM · And IMO the best Brahms VC too

August 16, 2006 at 09:01 AM · Greetings,

interesting that his name popped up just as I wa sthinking about a longish piece on the Beethoven sonatas. In short, I decided to evaluate all the top recoridngs of sonaata no 6 based on the criteria of fidelity to Beethoven"s written nuance. I worked this way because I belive one reaosn this sonata is undeplayed and undervalued is that so little care is taken with the dynamics it loses all its effect. When played as written it is one of the truly greas works for violin and piano (the other way, actually...). The upshot was that Ferras came out way ahead of the pack in terms of fidelity to the score . Szeryng second and Oistrakh way down the list. Ferras also had it all contained within a -very-rational range.IE he didn"t beat the crap out of it. Fantastic musician.



August 16, 2006 at 12:34 PM · Have you heard Kreisler and Szymon Goldberg recordings of the piece?

August 16, 2006 at 12:02 PM · Great to see this fantastic fiddler and artist getting this attention - I find he gets less recognition than he deserves. For his combination of supercharged expressiveness and French refinement, I think he is unique. Faure's Berceuse in the EMI DVD summarises his style well, and on a larger scale the Lekeu too. The title of his biography, The Violin of Icarus, is especially apt, as he got at the very zenith of his career, in the late 1960s, just before his fast and tragic and ultimately fatal decline, his playing burned with increasingly intensity. That slow movement of the Sibelius in the DVD is emblematic, and even more so is an electrifying live Brahms Concerto on the INA label (from the French Radio archives), which I find nearly unbearably heartfelt and exciting. Easy to say with hindsight, but it sounds to me like someone destined to commit suicide. Interesting what Buri says about Beethoven no.6: I love the performance, although as far as memory serves me, and is usually the case even in great performances, the sudden, extreme dynamic contrasts, and the quietest register, are not fully explored. For example those pianissimo clipped chords in the variations. Regarding that masterpiece, I have recordings of Szigeti with Arrau and Horszowski, that delve even deeper, again according to my memory. But back to Ferras, the Beethoven Sonatas with Barbizet are classics, and incidentally, I've seen them recently in London at a very low price. There are also later live recordings of nos.4,6,7, along similar lines, a trifle less polished and more intense. The set Les Introuvables de C.Ferras is generally available on ebay, lots of fantastic stuff - incredible Enesco 3rd Sonata, completely different from Enesco, yet so idiomatic, and so exciting...There's also a recent CD of live Berg and Stravinsky that's very moving (although devout neo-classicists might not approve of his Stravinsky), and the Decca CD from his teens, with Poeme (to my mind its most profound, haunted interpretation), Tzigane, Faure no.2, Debussy and Honegger solo sonata is phenomenal. And a live Beethoven Cto. when he was 19...He was just one of the giants. About his bowing, he would apparently tell his students to only pay attention to what he did insofar as they should do the opposite. As a boy in Paris I went to his last recital there, I remember there was a great buzz around it (it was a kind of comeback concert), and it's a big regret I was too young to really take it in musically. He took his life a couple of months later.

August 16, 2006 at 04:28 PM · I love Ferras myself. Sometimes he slides a little too much and this comes from a portamento lover. The high bow arm that was mentioned earlier was used also by his fellow countyman, Jacques Thibaud and was indicitive of the old French school. Someone told me that he was a gambler and died almost bankrupt. And his "Frank Sinatra" shows remarkable poise and taste.

August 17, 2006 at 12:23 AM · Greetings,

Yes, I have heard Kreisler and Goldberg. I wa sprivileged to paly in an orchestra accopanying Goldbergmany years ago but thta is for another day.

Nathaniel, I agree about the later movements. The point you highlight is certainly the weakest part of his inteprretation. I also have Szigeti and Arrau but I cannot say that I liked it. I couldn"t relate to Arrau"s interpretation and frankly, IO have a feeling Szigeti was somwhat at odds with him, too.



August 17, 2006 at 06:18 AM · Any opinions on his LvB VS set with Barbizet on EMI - how does it rank against Perlman, Grumiaux & D Oistrakh please?

August 17, 2006 at 11:34 AM · "In the left corner, Christian 'the Frenchman' Ferras! In the right corner, David 'Big Daddy' Oistrakh, tag-teaming with Itzhak 'Smiles' Perlman and Arthur 'The Man' Grumiaux!"

August 17, 2006 at 01:53 PM · When Ferras was asked how he thinks the team is going to do this year, he said, "I think if we can put it all together and keep the momentum going and not make any mistakes and avoid injuries, our downbow spiccato can beat their left hand pizzicato on any given day. (Gee, I hope I'm not traded to St. Louis.)"


August 17, 2006 at 02:35 PM · Thank you PDQ.

August 18, 2006 at 04:37 PM · Buri, interesting what you say about Szigeti/Arrau, I remember thinking something in that direction in some of the sonatas - not so strongly, but I do prefer the partnership with Horzowski in no.6 (I'm not aware of them recording other Beethoven sonatas, although there's stuff from Prades festival). Goldberg and Lili Kraus's recordings are fantastic. Please do share your Goldberg memories at some point!

Sorry to digress from the Ferras-WWF theme. N

August 18, 2006 at 05:26 PM · I remember as a kid having a recording of Beethoven's 7th Sonata with Szigeti and Horzowski. Unfortunately the recording disappeared decades ago, but I still remember the performance. It was great, even though it was from Szigeti's later years when his vibrato was as wide as the Grand Canyon and his bowing was a little wayward. Nevertheless, the intonation was on the money, and the interpretation was spellbinding.

August 18, 2006 at 09:01 PM · Christian Ferras' Sibelius remains as my favorite of all time.

He was an amazing violinist. I loved the way he played everything.

August 6, 2007 at 02:41 AM · wonder why he isn't as well known as heifetz... His technique was just as good but artistic expression was a lot better

August 6, 2007 at 03:17 AM · I don't know about "better" than heifetz in terms of technique or musicality, but I believe that Ferras had a wonderful sense of the music...his sibelius is just haunting (maybe because of all the problems and tribulations in his life, he was able to convey emotions that other violinists were not able to portray). He was a one-of-a kind violinist.

August 6, 2007 at 03:57 AM · Wasn't it Ivry Gitlis who said, "to play like that, you can't be normal"? Talking about Josef Hassid I think, but it still applies here, I guess...

August 6, 2007 at 03:33 PM · Yes, it totally applies to Ferras, as to very, very few others: an artist consumed with / by the music he played. I know I say this with the benefit of hindsight, but he sounds like someone destined to take his own life. It's most obvious in concert performances. Heifetz was fantastically musical, of course, but I believe Ferras was the more moving musician, and more unbridled, instinctive or idiosyncratic in virtuoso terms.

January 18, 2008 at 01:24 AM · Why is Ferras so underrated?

January 18, 2008 at 01:26 AM · My teacher doesn't like him because of the "sin" he commited by taking his own life, but I personally think that he is great!!!!

I love his recording of the Sibelius Concerto especcially the 2nd movement

January 18, 2008 at 06:46 AM · Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg talks about him in her book. She took lessons with him at a summer festival. Her focus is not on his playing but on his personality. He evidently took delight in making her (and others) cry. She calls him a "louse."


February 5, 2008 at 09:29 AM · I've been watching Ferras' performance of the Sibelius because I'm performing it for the first time next week. His playing is breathtaking. His bow arm includes the 3 things that all American teachers warn against (particularly Suzuki and Galamian influenced): concaved pinky, concaved thumb, and raised elbow and shoulder. The irony is that he's able to achieve a tone that I would kill for.

February 6, 2008 at 11:28 AM · ...but I believe he told his students not to try to emulate his bowing style. He was a law unto himself.

February 6, 2008 at 12:59 PM · I just picked up an LP of Ferras playing the Beethoven concerto, with Karajan and BPO. It is quite marvelous, and pretty unique, with a lovely and touching 2nd movement.

Also, can someone fix this thread? It is hard to read! Thanks.

September 17, 2008 at 04:27 PM ·

September 17, 2008 at 05:14 PM · He's one of my all time favorites!

September 17, 2008 at 05:25 PM · What a coincidence. There he was at midnight Monday/Tuesday on the Classic Arts Cable Channel playing the Mendelssohn (1st movement). (I record a foreign mystery show every Monday and fill up the disk with the Arts channel. Never know what prizes await.)


September 23, 2009 at 06:14 PM ·

I had the pleasure of working with Ferras in Nice one summer. He was unlike some of the other teachers in that he taught at his apartment vs the school. By this time his career had really fallen off. Unfortunately this may have been due to his reputation of liking to drink. He did not strike me as very healthy. I  found his playing to be very good while not of the quality that we hear on those early Deutsche Grammaphone recordings. He had a beautiful sound (I think he played on a Strad). If I remember correctly he had a high right elbow. His style was 'old school" with slides and the like. He talked about Menuhin alot. His style did remind me of Menuhin. Obviously being French his English was very good but peppered with some interesting words.

September 23, 2009 at 07:33 PM ·

I had a teacher who was a student of Ferras. It was in Marseille, she was teaching at the conservatory. Was the first couple of months when I started to learn from her. She was horrified by the "marseillaise way of speaking" :)


Anyway, just found out that my long term physical problem with violin was the improper way of using the upper arm when changing bow planes....

September 23, 2009 at 08:12 PM ·

Ferras is the perfect example of when we say that even if rests didn't exist, generally, people used to find all kinds of things to adjust the instrument to them. He used to fold a huge white cloth under and over his violin and, for him, it seemed to work just find (well at least in the art of violin : )

So sad his story but a so wonderful player!!!


September 24, 2009 at 02:24 AM ·

I was more enthusiastic about Ferras until I realized that everything he played sounded like he was crying. When it's appropriate, he does it like no one else; when it's not,  . . . He did make me much more aware of the moods that players inject into their music, and to think about whether it's a well-chosen mood or not.

September 24, 2009 at 01:53 PM ·

Agree Michael. On some works, like Lekeu's sonata, Tzigane or Elizalde v.c.he was superb. But on others like LvB or Brahms v.c., I don't like him. His sound however was always beautiful !

September 24, 2009 at 03:04 PM ·

I recently acquired a recital program signed by Ferras and Barbizet!  I can't wait for this thing to come in the mail to check it out.

September 25, 2009 at 04:51 PM ·

Congratulations! Every Ferra's signature is rare and wealthy. A signed photo is worth hundreds in the market. But the rarest are those of Neveu (or Hassid, if any exist).

January 11, 2010 at 10:56 PM ·

Dear fellow Ferras aficionados:

Would be too selfish not to share some great freebies...

The French National Audiovisual Institue folks (the INA) have been doing some digging into their archives.  Some GREAT treasure has been unearthed:

* a 60-minute special on Ferras - with some (insolent) joke of Ferras on the conductors,  Barbizet and Gerard Poulet talking about Ferras, and extracts of Ferras' music.   Even if you don't understand French, the music will be worth checking in.

* A 1953 (!!) live recital of Ferras+Barbizet, which confirmed my worst fear - the biggest regret of the duo for me is that they have never recorded BWV 1014-1019...  Nowhere else will you find the duo played these Bach sonatas.

* Beethoven concerto, recorded May 30, 1967, with Keilberth on the podium.  As his biographer deChouden has pointed out, despite the "oops" in bar 100 (the ascending scale) in Movement I, the interpretation was thrilling+disturbing.  ("if you can play like that, you can't be normal...")

* Beethoven triple, identical to the verson reissued on CD by DOREMI with Tortelier and Heidsieck.  (March 11, 1970)

* Beethoven Romance #1 and #2.  These two were the part 2 of the triple concerto concert above, but somehow the DOREMI folks decided to dump these in favor of the Brahms double recorded with Starker.  As far as I know, this is the only reissue of the two Romances by Ferras.

* Mendelssohn concerto, the same as reissued by DOREMI (recorded May 25, 1965), with Sawallisch on the podium.  A helluva performance despite the suboptimal recording technique.

* Prokofiev #1.  This concert, broadcasted in 1973, somehow slipped through the meticulous research of deChoudens.  Given how difficult (and expensive) to get the only live performance CD of Ferras' Prokofiev #1 (with Dixon directing), bravo to the French radio folks for unearthing this...

The important thing is, other than the 1953 recital, the "extract" that you will hear when you click on the photos are full versions of the recordings, with only a lower resolution, for FREE.

There are advantages attached to a socialist state...

Enjoy!  With complements of French taxpayers!

PS. To entice you to visit the site, here's the link to a 90-minute special to Jacques Thibaud, with interviews of Rubinstein and Enescu, talking about their great violinist friend, with the music they played together...

January 12, 2010 at 01:06 AM ·

Thanks Ashley for sharing the recordings.  Ferras is one of my favorite violinists.

January 12, 2010 at 03:46 PM ·

Ashley, so funny that you consider France a "socialist state"!!! Did you maybe mean "centralist"?

 As a french taxpayer, I think INA has been doing a lousy job so far, and is only starting to digitalize its incredibly rich archives. They have issued only a few Cds in their "mémoire vive" series, most of them of limited interest (ridiculous when you compare it to the BBC series), and don't know better than  threaten labels such as Music and arts or Doremi when they dare publish recordings of historical interest from the french radio that would otherwise remain unknown (I am thiniking of the Casals-Prades box, probably the most exciting chamber music collection available these days, featuring, by the way, Ferras with Casals and Kempff).

As far as Ferras is concerned, there are many many more tapes in the INA archives, both of concertos and recitals, as well as Gitlis, Szeryng,Kogan, Oistrakh, Stern, Milstein, Grumiaux, Francescatti etc...

January 12, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·

One of my very favorite pieces is the Fauré Berceuse. I haven't found the original DVD but I listen to it often on YouTube. Even with the low quality audio his musicality shines through.


January 13, 2010 at 12:20 AM ·

I was a young  violin maker working at Etienne Vatelot workshop, and when the Strad Milanollo came to the shop after he commit  suicide, it was one of the saddest  day of my life.

He gave a recital with Pierre Barbizet a short time before and everybody thought he was better, not drinking anymore, but....

January 13, 2010 at 12:26 AM ·

That surely have been very moving/emotional I agree...


January 13, 2010 at 01:15 PM ·

Daniel: I said the TREASURE was great, but not the work that has been done by the INA people.  Probably not much will be dug out as they work only 35 hours a week, assuming that they are indeed working during those 35 hours...

The truth is, I have a flight ticket this Friday but I am still not sure whether I will be grounded in Paris...  You know we'd better shut up when the fonctionnaires (French civil servants) are not on strike...  For me socialist = high taxes, NOT high benefits...  (Curiously, using this definition, China is still a “communist” country - check out the Forbes "Tax misery index")

Thierry de Choudens has probably viewed most of these hidden treasures through the indirect access (as a researcher to the French National library, where a copy of most TV/radio broadcast is kept).  But just the Prokofiev concerto is a confirmation that god-knows-how-many recordings are left to rot in the cellar...

Bruce: that Berceuse extract was from the EMI Classics DVD (from which the now cultish Sibelius concerto on Youtube is ripped).  Sadly given the work ethics of the INA folks, there are only two DVDs out there on Ferras.  De Choudens has identified at least 2-3 concerts recorded that are not even open for general public consultation in the library…  Sigh...


January 13, 2010 at 01:23 PM ·

Christian: your story moved me deeply...

"What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is the expressive of the inward: in which form reveals."

"Truth in art is the unity of a thing with itself: the outward rendered expressive of the inward: the soul made incarnate: the body instinct with spirit.  For this reason there is no truth comparable to sorrow."  De Profundis, Oscar "master of words" Wilde

That is sadly the only rationalisation I have found for our loss of such a talent.

February 2, 2010 at 11:38 AM ·

Not exactly the right place to put this message - but this saves a new thread.

The GRAMOPHONE folks have decided to open up their archive as a beta version, where you can jump into a time machine to see how your idol - no matter that be Ferras, Milstein, Heifetz, Szigeti, Grumiaux or Neveu - stacked up against each other as per these (fastidious) editors, who spent their lives in front of the Gramophone players...

The (often strong and subjective) opinions are, may I say, much better researched and informed than many a liner notes we see today - if there is a liner note attached to the disk at all.

Go spend an afternoon reading up on your hero, before the Gramophone folks start charging for the service.  Lots of spelling errors at this stage (OCR software mistakes) but your free debugging for them is precisely the reason why they open up the service for free, at least for the moment.

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