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Franck, César (Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert)

Franck, César (Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert) (b Liège, 1822; d Paris, 1890). Belg.-born composer and organist (Fr. cit. 1870). He toured Belgium as a pianist at the age of 13. In 1835 he went to Paris, studying harmony with Reicha and was at the Paris Cons. from 1837 to 1842. On leaving the Cons. he concentrated on comp. and settled in Paris in 1843. In 1853 he became choirmaster, and in 1858 organist, of the church of Sainte-Clotilde, Paris, where his outstanding ability as an improviser drew listeners from far and wide, incl. Liszt who in 1866 likened his skill to that of Bach. He was prof. of org. at the Cons. from 1872. Throughout these years as teacher and organist, his comps. were ignored by the general public. His pupils, led by d'Indy, organized a concert of his works in Jan. 1887, which, although poorly perf., pleased the uncomplaining composer, who subsequently wrote three of his finest works. The Sym. was received with incomprehension in 1889, but there was an enthusiastic response to the str. qt. He became Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1885.

In his early works Franck was influenced by the opéra-comique composers such as Grétry. His middle years were dominated by works of religious character, his oratorio Les Béatitudes occupying him for 10 years. In his later works he developed ‘cyclic form’ whereby a theme, modified or varied, recurs in each section of the work. His symphonic poems date from the late 1870s and the Variations Symphoniques for pf. and orch. from 1885. Franck's harmonic idiom, no doubt influenced by Wagner and by the org.-loft, has a pungent individuality which exerted a powerful sway not only over his pupils but over a much later generation, e.g. Messiaen. His work also played a large part in restoring French taste for ‘pure music’, thereby opening the way for Debussy, Ravel, and others. Prin. comps.:OPERAS: Le Valet de Ferme, opéra-comique (1851–2); Hulda (1882–5); Ghisèle (1889–90, orch. by Chausson, d'Indy, and others).ORCH.: Les Éolides (1876); Le Chasseur maudit (1881–2); Les Djinns (1884, pf. and orch.); Variations Symphoniques (1885, pf. and orch.); Psyché (1887–8, with ch.); sym. in D minor (1886–8).CHORAL: Ruth, biblical eclogue, soloists, ch., orch. (1843–6); La Tour de Babel, oratorio (1865); Les Béatitudes, oratorio (1869–79); Rédemption, sop., ch., orch. (1871–2, orch. item and male ch. added 1874); Rebecca (1881); Messe solennelle, bass, org. (1858); Mass, 3 vv. (STB), org., hp., vc., db. (1860); 3 Offertories, soloist, ch., org., db.; Panis angelicus, ten., org., hp., vc., db. (1872).CHAMBER MUSIC: pf. trio (1834); Trois Trios Concertants, pf., vn., vc. (1841–2); 4th Trio Concertant (1842); pf. quintet (1878–9); sonata, pf., vn. (1886, also arr. for pf. and vc. and for pf. and fl.); str. qt. in D major (1889).PIANO: Souvenirs d'Aix-la-Chapelle (1843); Fantasia on 2 Polish Airs (1845); Prélude, Choral, et Fugue (1884); Prélude, Aria et Final (1886–7).ORGAN: 6 Pièces pour Grand Orgue (1862); 44 Petites Pièces (1863); 3 Pièces pour Grand Orgue (incl. Pièce heroique) (1878); Andantino (1889); 3 Chorals (1890).

Also songs and works for harmonium incl. L'Organiste, 59 pieces for harmonium (1889–90).

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César Franck

César Franck

The music of the French composer César Franck (1822-1890) is characterized by chromatic harmonies and skillful use of counterpoint. He frequently used a cyclic form, in which all the thematic material comes together in a climactic finale.

Born in Liège, Belgium, on Dec. 10, 1822, César Franck howed an unusual talent for music as a child. He began his studies at the Royal Conservatory, winning prizes for singing and piano playing. In 1835 his family moved to Paris. Franck attended the Paris Conservatory (1837-1842), where he won prizes for piano, counterpoint, fugue, and organ. He became known for the ease with which he improvised and performed difficult music at sight, transposing it to any key at will.

After a 2-year sojourn in Belgium, Franck settled permanently in Paris. He began composing and teaching. In 1858 he became organist at Ste-Clotilde, a post he held until his death. In 1872 he became professor of organ at the conservatory, where he attracted the devotion of some of the most promising students. Wielding a strong influence over younger composers like Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, and Henri Duparc, Franck seems to have turned his organ classes into composition courses and persuaded an entire generation of French composers to break away from opera (the only kind of music the French public seriously supported at this time) and to adopt a more serious attitude toward purely instrumental music. Franck died in Paris on Nov. 8, 1890.

Franck composed slowly and carefully, maturing through his lifetime. His total output is rather small, and his best works were written after his sixtieth birthday. The best-known of his choral compositions is The Beatitudes, completed in 1879, the same year he finished his Quintet for Piano and Strings, a characteristic work in the cyclic form. In 1884 he composed his most well-known piece for piano, the Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue, the title suggesting not only the religious tone that hovers over much of Franck's music but his own love of Johann Sebastian Bach.

The following year saw the appearance of Franck's Violin Sonata, with its effortlessly executed canon in the final movement, as well as the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, a lyric quasi-concerto that treats piano and orchestra with equal consideration. The Symphony in D Minor, completed in 1888, follows the composer's preferred three-movement structure by combining the two traditional middle movements of the classical symphony, the andante and the scherzo, into a single movement. Again, all the principal themes return in the final movement.

Further Reading

Vincent d'Indy, César Franck (1906; trans. 1910), is a biography written by Franck's pupil. An excellent study of Franck and his artistic milieu is Laurence Davies, César Franck and His Circle (1970). Norman Demuth, César Franck (1949), discusses the music in detail.

Additional Sources

Davies, Laurence, César Franck and his circle, New York: DaCapo Press, 1977. □

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