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César Franck

Biography

Born: 1822   Died: 1890   Country: France   Period: Romantic
César Franck is an important composer from the latter half of the nineteenth century, particularly in the realms of symphonic, chamber, organ and piano music. His stage works were uniformly unsuccessful, though his choral compositions fared somewhat better. Born in Liège (in the French region which in 1830 became part of a new state, Belgium), on December 10, 1822, he led a group of young composers, among them d'Indy, Duparc, and Dukas, who found Read more much to admire in his highly individual post-Romantic style, with its rich, innovative harmonies, sometimes terse melodies, and skilled contrapuntal writing. This group, sometimes known as "la bande à Franck," steered French composition toward symphonic and chamber music, finally breaking the stranglehold of the more conservative opera over French music.

Franck was a keyboard player of extraordinary ability who had a short stint as a touring piano virtuoso before moving to Paris and throwing himself into musical studies. In addition, he was an organist at several major churches during his career, and his skills on the organ accounted in great part for his compositional interest in that instrument; his organ compositions stand at the apex of the Romantic organ repertoire. Franck was a man of strong religious convictions throughout his life, which often motivated him to compose works based on biblical texts or on other church sources. For much of his life he was organist at the Paris churches of St.-Jean-St. François and then Ste.-Clothilde, and in 1872 he became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire.

Individual and instantly recognizable though his music was, it owes a debt to Liszt and Wagner, especially to the latter's Tristan und Isolde and several other late works. He tended to use rather quick modulations, another inheritance from Wagner, and shifting harmonies. There is a Germanic ponderousness in some of his compositions; consider, for example, the opening of the Symphony in D minor of 1888, probably Franck's most famous composition. In this work, one hears a mixture of paradoxical elements so typical of the composer: for example, moments of peace and serenity barely conceal an undercurrent of disquiet. In this symphony, Franck, adapts the Lisztian-Wagnerian predilection toward cyclical structure and melodic motto to an abstract symphonic form. Another characteristic of Franck's music is extended homophonic writing, as exemplified in his choral symphonic poem Psyché.

Franck died in Paris on November 8, 1890. By the turn of the century he had become the leading figure associated with the "Old School" in France, while Debussy came to represent the "progressive" forces. Read less
Franck: Early Piano Music / Julia Severus
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8572901   Number of Discs: 1
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Sonatas For Violin And Piano By Cesar Franck And Richard Strauss
Release Date: 09/09/2014   Label: Pentatone  
Catalog: 186470   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck: Symphonic Variations; D'indy: Symphony On A French Mountain Air
Release Date: 10/04/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550754   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck, Grieg: Violin Sonatas / Takako Nishizaki, Jenö Jandó
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550417   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck: Piano Quintet;  Chausson: String Quartet / Ludwig Qt
Release Date: 06/02/1998   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553645   Number of Discs: 1
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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 Read more 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 Read less

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