Colonne studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prizes in both harmony and violin. From 1858 to 1867 he was first violinist at the Opéra in Paris. In 1873, Colonne, along with music publisher Georges Hartmann, founded the Concert National at the Théâtre de l'Odéon. Two years later, in 1875, the venue changed to the Théâtre du Châtelet, and after breaking with Hartmann, Colonne changed the name of the enterprise to the Association Artistique du Châtelet. The Association eventually became known as "Colonne Concerts". Until it ceased publication in 1880, Colonne also served as editor of the weekly La gazette musicale.
He was noted for his interest in Berlioz (who was then more highly regarded in the English- and German-speaking countries than in France) and for his support of Wagner's and Mahler's music. He was also the first conductor of eminence to make commercial gramophone (phonograph) records (for the Pathé company, 1906).
Tchaikovsky and Colonne
Colonne was the first conductor of several of Tchaikovsky's works in Paris, including the symphonic fantasia The Tempest, the Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Nikolay Rubinstein as soloist) and the Symphony No. 4. Tchaikovsky was also the first person to whom Colonne yielded his place at the conductor's podium, and the composer had great respect for Colonne as a musician and conductor, assisting his conducting tours in Moscow.
Correspondence with Tchaikovsky
15 letters from Tchaikovsky to Édouard Colonne have survived, dating from 1876 to 1892, of which the ones highlighted in bold have been translated into English on this website:
- Letter 528a – 25 December 1876/6 January 1877, from Moscow
- Letter 534a –11/23 January 1877, from Moscow
- Letter 1122 – 25 February/9 March 1879, from Paris
- Letter 1210a – 18/30 June 1879, from Kamenka
- Letter 2965 – 5/17 June 1886, from Paris
- Letter 3467 – 10/22 January 1888 , from Hamburg
- Letter 3475 – 14/26 January 1888, from Leipzig
- Letter 3591 – 14/26 June 1888 , from Frolovskoye
- Letter 3774a – 22 January/3 February 1889, from Saint Petersburg
- Letter 3796 – 16/28 February 1889, from Berlin
- Letter 3998 – 7/19 January 1890 , from Moscow
- Letter 4000a – 9/21 January 1890, from Moscow
- Letter 4150 – 19 June/1 July 1890, from Frolovskoye
- Letter 4602 – 16/28 January 1892 (?), from Paris (?)
- Letter 4782b – 9/21 October 1892, from Klin
11 letters from Colonne to the composer, dating from 1879 to 1892, are preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 1498–1508).