Charles Francois Gounod

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Prominent figure in romanticist music; b. Paris, June 17, 1818; d. Saint-Cloud, Oct. 18, 1893. The boy was heir to a long artistic tradition; his father was a Prix de Rome painter; his mother, an excellent pianist. Young Gounod took his B. ès Lettres at the Lycée Saint-Louis, then entered the Paris Conservatory, winning the Prix de Rome in 1839. After experience as church organist in Rome and Paris, he studied theology for two years before deciding finally upon a career as composer. As with his life, his creative work moved along two linesthe opera and the Church. Among many operatic failures, his Faust remains a landmark of the lyric stage despite its theatrical absurdities, and Romeo et Juliette was one of the first French coloratura operas. His religious worksnotably the four Masses and the oratorios Rédemption and Mors et Vita have certain fine moments, and betray a marvelous gift for vocal writing as well as unfailing workmanship and earnestness of purpose; but they lack virility and humility and are aesthetically banal. After a period of Victorian popularity they have all but disappeared. His best (because simple and unpretentious) church music may be found in the Anglican anthems and other pieces composed while he was in England during the Franco-Prussian War.

Apart from his fine musicianship, he had a serious musical outlook unusual for the period. His first envoi as a Prix de Rome winner was an unaccompanied Te Deum for ten soloists and two choruses in Palestrina style, at a time when Palestrina was an unknown quantity in France. When he discovered Bach's Well-Tempered Clavichord and brought it back to Paris, he caused consternation at the conservatory. He was also generous and encouraging toward young composers. Church music has since acquired a dignity that cannot be detected in Gounod's Masses; yet these works remain emblematic of the romanticist period.

Bibliography: c. f. gounod, Memories of an Artist, tr. by a. e. crocker (New York 1895); Autobiographical Reminiscences, with Family Letters and Notes on Music, tr. w. h. hutchinson (London 1896). n. demuth, Introduction to the Music of Gounod (London 1950). h. busser, Charles Gounod (Lyons 1961). e. haraszti, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949) 5:593604. g. chouquet and a. jullien, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. e. blom, 9 v. (5th ed. London 1954) 3:729735. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (5th ed. New York 1958) 594596. m. cooper, "Charles Gounod and His Influence on French Music," Music and Letters 21 (1940) 5059; French Music (London 1951; pa. New York 1955). a. g. gann, "Théophile Gautier, Charles Gounod, and the Massacre of La Nonne sanglante, " Journal of Musicological Research, 13 (1993) 4966. c. f. gounod, "Composers as Conductors," introduced by m. kelkel, tr. w. ashbrook, Opera Quarterly, 12/1 (1996) 517. w. e. grim, "Faust, " in International Dictionary of Opera ed. c. s. larue, 2v. (Detroit 1993) 421423. j.-m. guieu, "Mirèio and Mireille: Mistral's Poem and Gounod's Opera," Opera Quarterly, 10/1 (1993) 3347. s. huebner, The Operas of Charles Gounod (Oxford 1990). l. snyder, "Mireille, " in International Dictionary of Opera ed. c. s. larue, 2 v. (Detroit 1993) 880882. l. a. wright, "Gounod and Bizet: A Study in Musical Paternity," Journal of Musicological Research, 13 (1993) 3148.

[n. demuth]

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Gounod, Charles (François)

Gounod, Charles (François), famous French composer; b. Paris, June 17, 1818; d. St. Cloud, Oct. 18, 1893. His father, Jean François Gounod, was a painter, winner of the 2nd Grand Prix de Rome, who died when Gounod was a small child. His mother, a most accomplished woman, supervised his literary, artistic, and musical education, and taught him piano. He completed his academic studies at the Lycee St. Louis; in 1836 he entered the Paris Cons., studying with Halévy, Le Sueur, and Paër. In 1837 he won the 2nd Prix de Rome with his cantata Marie Stuart et Rizzio; in 1839 he won the Grand Prix with his cantata Fernand. In Rome, he studied church music, particularly the works of Palestrina; composed a Mass for 3 Voices and Orch., which was performed at the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. In 1842, during a visit to Vienna, he conducted a Requiem of his own; upon his return to Paris, he became précentor and organist of the Missions Étrangéres; studied theology for 2 years, but decided against taking Holy Orders; yet he was often referred to as 1’Abbé Gounod; some religious choruses were publ. in 1846 as composed by Abbé Charles Gounod. Soon he tried his hand at stage music. On April 16, 1851, his first opera, Sapho, was produced at the Opera, with only moderate success; he revised it much later, extending it to 4 acts from the original 3, and it was performed again on April 2, 1884; but it was unsuccessful. His second opera, La Nonne sanglante, in 5 acts, was staged at the Opera on Oct. 18, 1854; there followed a comic opera, Le Medecin malgre lui, after Moliere (Jan. 15, 1858), which also failed to realize his expectations. In the meantime, he was active in other musical ways in Paris; he conducted the choral society Orphéon (1852-60) and composed for it several choruses. Gounod’s great success came with the production of Faust, after Goethe (Theatre-Lyrique, March 19, 1859; perf. with additional recitatives and ballet at the Opera, March 3, 1869); Faust remained Gounod’s greatest masterpiece, and indeed the most successful French opera of the 19th century, triumphant all over the world without any sign of diminishing effect through a century of changes in musical tastes. however, it was widely criticized for the melodramatic treatment of Goethe’s poem by the librettists, Barbier and Carré, and for the somewhat sentimental style of Gounod’s music. The succeeding operas Phiémon et Baucis (Paris, Feb. 18, 1860), La Colombe (Baden-Baden, Aug. 3, 1860), La Reine de Saba (Paris, Feb. 29, 1862), and Mireille (Paris, March 19, 1864) were only partially successful, but with Romeo et Juliette (Paris, April 27, 1867), Gounod recaptured universal acclaim. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, he went to London, where he organized Gounod’s Choir, and presented concerts; when Paris fell, he wrote an elegiac cantata, Gallia, to words from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, which he conducted in London on May 1, 1871; it was later performed in Paris. He wrote some incidental music for productions in Paris: Les Deux Reines, to a drama by Legouve (Nov. 27, 1872), and Jeanne d’Arc, to Barbier’s poem (Nov. 8, 1873). In 1874, he returned to Paris; there he produced his operas Cinq-Mars (April 5, 1877), Polyeucte (Oct. 7, 1878), and Le Tribut de Zamora (April 1,1881), without signal success. The last years of his life were devoted mainly to sacred works, of which the most important was La Rédemption, a trilogy, first performed at the Birmingham Festival in 1882; another sacred trilogy, Mors et vita, also written for the Birmingham Festival, followed in 1885. He continued to write religious works in close succession, including a Te Deum (1886), La Communion des saints (1889), Messe dite le Clovis (1890), La Contemplation de Saint François au pied de la croix (1890), and Tantum ergo (1892). A Requiem (1893) was left unfinished, and was arranged by Henri Büsser after Gounod’s death. One of his most popular settings to religious words is Ave Maria, adapted to the 1st prelude of Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, but its original version was Méditation sur le premier Prelude de Piano de /.S. Bach for Violin and Piano (1853); the words were added later (1859). Other works are 2 syms. (1855), Marche funébre d’une marionnette for Orch. (1873), Petite symphonic for Wind Instruments (1888), 3 string quartets, a number of piano pieces, and songs. Among his literary works were Ascanio de Saint-Saësns (1889), Le Don Juan de Mozart (1890; in Eng., 1895), and an autobiography, Mémoires d’un artiste (Paris, 1896; Eng. tr. by W. Hutchenson, N.Y., 1896).


M. de Bovet, C. G. (Paris, 1890; Eng. tr., London, 1891); L. Pagnerre, C. G., Sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1890); C. Saint- saëns, C. G. et le Don Juan de Mozart (Paris, 1893); T. Dubois, Notice sur C. G. (Paris, 1894); P. Voss, C. G.: Ein Lebensbild (Leipzig, 1895); H. Tolhurst, G. (London, 1905); P. Hillemacher, C. G. (Paris, 1906); C. Bellaigue, G. (Paris, 1910);J.-G. Prod’homme and A. Dandelot, G.: Sa vie et ses oeuvres (2 vols., Paris, 1911); H. Soubies and H. de Curzon, Documents inedits sur le Faust de G. (Paris, 1912); P. Landormy, G. (Paris, 1942); idem, Faust de G.: Etude et analyse (Paris, 1944); J. Harding, G. (London, 1973); M. Rustman, Lyric Opera: A Study of the Contribution ofC. G. (diss., Univ. of Kans., 1986); S. Huebner, The Operas of G. (Oxford, 1990); M. Galland, ed., C. G., Mireille: Dossier de presse parisienne (1864) (Bietigheim, 1995).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Gounod, Charles (François) (b Paris, 1818; d St-Cloud, 1893). Fr. composer, conductor, and organist. Won Grand Prix de Rome 1839; impressed by Rome and made special study of Palestrina. Became org. at Paris church and studied for priesthood but eventually decided to devote himself to comp. Wrote several operas from 1851 but had no real success until Faust in 1859, which became and remained one of the most popular of all operas. Later operas were less successful, though Roméo et Juliette survives and the delightful La Colombe has been rediscovered. Also wrote many choral works and lived in Eng. 1870–5, becoming first cond. of what is now Royal Choral Soc. His oratorios La Rédemption and Mors et vita were comp. for the Birmingham and Norwich Fests. of 1882 and 1885. Gounod's mus. has considerable melodic charm and felicity, with admirable orchestration. He was not really a master of the large and imposing forms, in this way perhaps being a Fr. parallel to Sullivan. Works incl.:OPERAS: Sapho (1851); La Nonne sanglante (1854); Le Médecin malgré lui (1858); Faust (1859); La Colombe (1860); Philémon et Baucis (1860); La Reine de Saba (1862); Mireille (1864); Roméo et Juliette (1867); Cinq Mars (1877); Polyeucte (1878); Le Tribut de Zamora (1881).ORCH.: sym. No.1 in D (1855), No.2 in E♭ (c.1854); Petite Symphonie in B♭, for 9 wind instrs. (1885).ORATORIOS: La Rédemption (1868–81); Mors et Vita (1885).CANTATAS: Marie Stuart (1837); Gallia (1871).CHURCH MUSIC: Messe a tre (1841); Messe solennelle (1849); Messe solennelle de Ste Cécile (1855); Messe à Jeanne d'Arc (1887); three Requiems; Stabat Mater, Te Deum, Magnificat, etc.MISC.: Funeral March of a Marionette (for pf., 1872, orch. 1879); Méditation sur le premier prélude de S. Bach, pf., vn. or vc., org. or vc. ad lib (1853, being 1st prelude of Bach's ‘48’ with counterpoint melody by Gounod. In 1859 this was arr. as a solo song, Ave Maria, mélodie religieuse adaptée au premier prélude de J. S. Bach); many songs.

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Charles François Gounod

The French composer Charles François Gounod (1818-1893) is best known for his operas. His music tends to be more lyric than dramatic, his melodic writing at its best revealing a considerable warmth of feeling.

Charles Gounod was born on June 17, 1818, in Paris. His father was a prominent painter; his mother was a pianist, and Charles received his first musical education from her. In 1836 he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he studied counterpoint with Jacques Fromentin Halévy and composition with Jean François Lesueur.

In 1837 Gounod won second place in the coveted Prix de Rome award and in 1839 the Grand Prix. This enabled him to study in Italy, where he was exposed to the choral music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. This remained an important influence throughout his life, perhaps even to the detriment of his own choral writing. Returning from Rome through Austria, he also had the chance to hear some of the more romantic compositions of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn.

For a time Gounod studied theology and even considered becoming a priest. His theological interests ultimately earned him the title "Abbé." Eventually he returned to music, and he attempted to gain success through the composition of operas, the surest road to fame for any French composer. His first opera, Sapho (1851), achieved only a moderate success. With his fourth opera, Faust (1859), he achieved international renown. Although both the libretto and the music have been criticized for their sentimental oversimplification of Goethe's great drama, Faust maintained its position as the most popular French opera in the repertoire for almost a century. Gounod completed 12 operas, but only one other, Roméo et Juliette (composed 1864, first performed 1867), has remained in the repertoire. Its fame rests on Juliette's waltz song and the numerous love duets.

From 1870 to 1875 Gounod lived in London, where, in addition to presenting concerts and composing a number of religious works, he organized the Gounod Choir, later to become the Royal Choral Society. In his last years he concentrated almost exclusively on composing large choral works, but none of these added to his stature as a composer. He died at Saint-Cloud on Oct. 18, 1893.

Two short compositions by Gounod have attained sufficient popularity to merit mention. One is the orchestral Funeral March for a Marionette (1873), which captures perfectly the peculiar humor suggested in the title. The other is the Ave Maria (1859) based on Johann Sebastian Bach's first prelude from The Well-tempered Clavier. This has been criticized as a sentimentalization of the work of a great master, but it is in actuality an ingenious display of compositional craft in which Gounod kept Bach's prelude unchanged but used it as an accompaniment for his own expressive melody.

Further Reading

Gounod wrote his Autobiographical Reminiscences (trans. 1896; repr. 1970). There are no major biographies of Gounod in English. Norman Demuth, Introduction to the Music of Gounod (1950), is a study of his work. Brief material on Gounod is in Edward J. Dent, Opera (1940; rev. ed. 1949), and Donald Jay Grout, A Short History of Opera (1947; 2d ed. 1965). □

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Gounod, Charles François (1818–93) French composer and organist. He composed church and choral music and is best known for his operas, which include Faust (1859), Mireille (1863), and Roméo et Juliette (1864).

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