Gounod, Mrs Weldon and the Birmingham Music Festival
Gounod had an eventful relationship with the festival. He used his celebrity status to negotiate the incredible fee of £4000 for his involvement in the 1882 and 1885 festivals (which drew envy from Dvorak who was paid £200 for a commission in 1885). A contractual clause led to a dispute over royalties with publishers Novello and Co. over the 1882 commission Redemption. Gounod made this dispute public and was sued by Henry Littleton of Novello for defamation. The original dispute was settled with Gounod surrendering all rights to the piece, whilst the festival committee accepted several conditions laid out by the composer.
Gounod had been involved for several years in a complex relationship with singer Georgina Weldon, who provided board and lodging for him whilst he stayed in England. Although Gounod is said to have been infatuated with the singer, their relationship is thought to have been more nothing more than friendly. After relations broke down, the couple exchanged bitter correspondence, resulting in Mrs Weldon’s threat to serve notice on Gounod for unpaid rent totalling £2600.
Gounod conducted the first performance of Redemption, with security at the Town Hall preventing Mrs Weldon from distributing leaflets about their relationship to members of the orchestra and performers. The oratorio was a great success with festival goers, being performed on the 30 August and 1 September 1882.
Mors et Vita
Gounod’s contribution to the 1885 festival was Mors et Vita. The composer was unable to conduct this piece as Mrs Weldon managed to obtain a judgement against him which totalled £11,640. This sum was for damages and costs linked to a number of alleged illegalities. It was lodged whilst Mrs Weldon was herself incarcerated on charges of slander.
Although Gounod insisted that he was innocent, he refused to return to England for fear that he would be jailed.