Franck, César Auguste
FRANCK, CÉSAR AUGUSTE
Important composer of the romanticist period; b. St. Croix (Liège), Belgium, Dec. 22, 1822; d. Paris, Nov. 8,1890. Although by birth a Walloon, he became absorbed into French culture, was naturalized in 1873, and is regarded as a French composer. He studied at the Liège and Paris conservatories, becoming organ professor at the latter in 1872. He had aspired to a career as virtuoso pianist, and concentrated practice gave him an abnormal hand-stretch that influenced his creative pianism. Although three early piano trios (1841) suggested what was to follow, it was only between 1860 and 1862 that his first really important music appeared, Six Pièces for organ—a direct consequence of his appointment in 1858 as organist
at Sainte-Clothilde, where he could give full vent in his extemporizations to his simple and ardent faith. His religiosity has been distorted; the picture painted by his adoring pupil Vincent d' indy is one of a bigoted and consummate prig. This he was not; he was simply a good man and a staunch believer, who spoke to God through his music. The gallery of Sainte-Clothilde, his house in Boul' Mich, and later the organ room at the conservatory thronged with young musicians (not all his pupils) who were introduced there to the beauties of Bach and Beethoven and his own improvisations. His "liturgical" compositions are undistinguished; his concert works, however, reflect his spiritual preoccupation as well as his improvisatory technique. There are few composers whose sincerity is so overt as was his in everything he wrote.
Musically he may be regarded as the father of modern harmony. He formulated a distinctive school of composers whose style was basically contrapuntal in structure yet lyrical in intent; and he moved French music from operatic domination to an "absolute" and symphonic position. His own output was not large, but it includes several masterpieces among the genres he essayed. Such are his monumental oratorio, Les Béatitudes; his violin sonata, string quartet, and piano quintet; and his extended orchestral works, notably the Symphonic Variations and D-Minor Symphony, both popular perennials of the concert repertory. His organ works and the two great solos for piano are acknowledged classics of their instruments.
Bibliography: c. van den borren, César Franck (Brussels 1950). n. demuth, César Franck (New York 1949); French Piano Music (London 1959). n. dufourcq, César Franck (Paris 1949). m. emmanuel, César Franck (Paris 1930). v. d'indy, César Franck, tr. r. h. newmarch (New York 1910). l. vallas, César Franck, tr. h. foss (London 1951). m. cooper, French Music (London 1951). a. salazar, Music in Our Time, tr. i. pope (London 1948). p. dewonck, "César Franck, 'maître de la musique moderne,"' Revue Belge de Musicologie 52 (1998) 73–84. j. ferrard, "L'œuvre por orgue de César Franck: Sources et Éditions," Revue Belge de Musicologie 45 (1991) 163–180. m.-l. jaquet-langlais, "The Organ Works of Franck: A Survey of Editorial and Performance Problems," in French Organ Music from the Revolution to Franck and Widor, ed. l. archbold and w. j. peterson, tr. m. dirst and k. marshall (Rochester 1995) 143–188. m. g. kaufmann, "'Caesar Franck; Ein Deutscher!': Der Versuch einer Vereinnahmung der Französischen Musik-kultur im 'Dritten Reich,"' Musik und Kirche 69 (1999) 326–333. j. quitin, "Le Retour de Franck à Liège," Revue Belge de Musicologie 45 (1991) 85–96. r. smith, Toward an Authentic Interpretation of the Organ Works of César Franck (Hillsboro, N.Y. 1983); Playing the Organ Works of César Franck (Hillsboro, N.Y. 1997).