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

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

Franck, César (-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert), great Belgian composer and organist, brother of Joseph Franck; b. Liege, Dec. 10, 1822; d. Paris, Nov. 8, 1890. He studied first at the Royal Cons, of Liege with Daussoigne and others. At the age of 9 he won 1st prize for singing, and at 12 1st prize for piano. As a child prodigy, he gave concerts in Belgium. In 1835 his family moved to Paris, where he studied privately with Anton Reicha. In 1837 he entered the Paris Cons., studying with Zimmerman (piano), Benoist (organ), and Leborne (theory). A few months after his entrance examinations he received a special award of “grand prix d’honneur” for playing a fugue a third lower at sight; in 1838 he received the 1st prize for piano, in 1839, a 2nd prize for counterpoint, in 1840, 1st prize for fugue, and in 1841, 2nd prize for organ. In 1842 he was back in Belgium, but in 1843 he returned to Paris, where he settled for the rest of his life. On March 17, 1843, he presented there a concert of his chamber music. On Jan. 4, 1846, his first major work, the oratorio Ruth, was given at the Paris Cons. On Feb. 22, 1848, in the midst of the Paris revolution, he married. In 1851 he became organist of the church of St.-Jean-St.-Franc.ois, in 1853, maitre de chapelle, and, in 1858, organist at Ste.-Clotilde, which position he held until his death. In 1872 he succeeded his former teacher Benoist as prof. of organ at the Paris Cons. Franck’s organ classes became the training school for a whole generation of French composers; among his pupils were d’Indy, Chausson, Breville, Bordes, Duparc, Ropartz, Pierné, Vidal, Chapuis, Vierne, and a host of others, who eventually formed a school of modern French instrumental music. Until the appearance of Franck in Paris, operatic art dominated the entire musical life of the nation, and the course of instruction at the Paris Cons, was influenced by this tendency. By his emphasis on organ music, based on the contrapuntal art of Bach, Franck swayed the new generation of French musicians toward the ideal of absolute music. The foundation of the famous Schola Cantorum by d’Indy, Bordes, and others in 1894 realized Franck’s teachings. After the death of dlndy in 1931, several members withdrew from the Schola Cantorum and organized the Ecole Cesar Franck (1938).

Franck was not a prolific composer, but his creative powers rose rather than diminished with advancing age. His only sym. was completed when he was 66, his remarkable Violin Sonata was written at the age of 63, and his String Quartet was composed in the last year of his life. Lucidity of contrapuntal design and fullness of harmony are the distinguishing traits of Franck’s music; in melodic writing he balanced the diatonic and chromatic elements in fine equilibrium. Although he did not pursue innovation for its own sake, he was not averse to using unorthodox procedures. The novelty of introducing an English horn into the score of his Sym. aroused some criticism among academic musicians of the time. Franck was quite alien to the Wagner-Liszt school of composition, which attracted many of his own pupils; the chromatic procedures in Franck’s music derive from Bach rather than from Wagner.


DRAMATIC Opera : Le Valet de Ferme (1851–53); Hulda (1882–85; Monte Carlo, March 8, 1894); Ghisèle (unfinished; orchestration completed by d’Indy, Chausson, Breville, Rousseau, and Coquard; Monte Carlo, March 30, 1896). O r a t o r i o s : Ruth (1843–46; Paris, Jan. 4, 1846; rev. 1871); La Tour de Babel (1865); Les Béatitudes (1869–79; Dijon, June 15, 1891); Redemption (1st version, Paris, April 10, 1873; final version, Paris, March 15, 1875); Rébecca (Paris, March 15, 1881; produced as a 1-act sacred opera at the Paris Opéra, May 25, 1918). ORCH.: S y m p h o n i c P o e m s : Les Éolides (Paris, May 13, 1877); Le Chasseur maudit (Paris, March 31, 1883); Les Djinns (Paris, March 15, 1885); Psyché (Paris, March 10, 1888). OTHER: Variations symphoniques for Piano and Orch. (Paris, May 1, 1886); Sym. in D minor (Paris, Feb. 17, 1889). CHAMBER: 4 piano trios (early works; 1841–42); Andante quietoso for Piano and Violin (1843); Duo pour piano et violon concertants, on themes from Dalayrac’s Gulistan (1844); Quintet in F minor for Piano and Strings (1879); Violin Sonata (1886); String Quartet (1889). KEYBOARD : Piano : 4 fantaisies; Prélude, Choral et Fugue; Prelude, Aria et Final; 3 pet its riens; Danse lente; etc. Organ : 6 piéces (Fantaisie; Grande piece symphonique; Prélude, Fugue, et Variations; Pastorale; Priére; Finale); 3 pieces (Fantaisie; Cantabile; Piece heroique); Andantino; 3 chorales; an album of 44 Petites pieces; an album of 55 pieces, entitled L’Organiste; etc. SACRE D VOCAL: Messe solennelle (1858); Messe a 3 voix (1860); Panis angelicus for Tenor, Organ, Harp, Cello, and Double Bass; offertories, motets, etc.; 16 songs, among them La Procession (also arranged for Voice and Orch.).


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—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire