Work: Pieces (3) for Organ: no 3 - Pièce héroïque in B minor, M 37
About This Work
Franck was titular organist at the newly constructed and soon to be fashionable Parisian basilica Ste. Clotilde from 1858 until his death in 1890. Considering that the organ was Franck's preferred instrument, he composed -- discounting a number of
small, if characteristic harmonium pieces -- surprisingly little for it, though each of his dozen organ works is a milestone in his oeuvre. With the Six Pièces of the early 1860s, for instance, he turned his back on the popular vein of grandes fantaisies and variations brillantes that had occupied his years as a reluctant piano virtuoso for embarkation on a mature style prompted by Beethoven, Liszt, and a blossoming of latent Romantic sensibility evident as early as the unpublished orchestral poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne of 1845-1847 (after Victor Hugo's poem, which had also inspired Liszt). The Three Chorals were Franck's last works, which he was revising on his deathbed, the grand culmination of a lifetime informed by the richest harmonic palette in Western music. Between them, the Trois Pièces, composed in 1878, are contemporary with the startlingly sensual Quintet for piano and strings, and loom as part of that spate of compositions in which the mature style of his last dozen or so years was confidently achieved: the symphonic poems Les Éolides (1875-1876) and Le Chasseur maudit (1882); the piano triptychs Prélude, choral et fugue (1884) and Prélude, aria et final (1888); a violin sonata (1886); and many more. Franck's "disciple" Vincent d'Indy noted that the Trois Pièces were "written expressly for the inauguration of the colossal organ" -- another Cavaillé-Coll instrument -- "at the Trocadéro during the exhibition of 1878...." And he singled out for praise the Cantabile, "with its suave and devotional theme" and its "wonderful canon which, moving with unbroken ease, forms the adornment of the melody, written by the master on purpose to display the warm, expressive quality of the new clarinet stop, recently discovered by Cavaillé-Coll." The pieces flanking the yearningly intimate Cantabile have an appropriately public character, the Fantaisie in A beginning with a stentorian theme in unison octaves -- magnificently woven against a falling/rising wisp of lyricism into a sonic tapestry of light in darkness -- while the Pièce heroïque opens with dramatic swagger to essay a moment of anxious prayer before being moved by a rocking figure on the pedals to a trenchantly triomphale conclusion.
-- Adrian Corleonis, All Music Guide
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