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 Ličge (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 ŕ 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, Grieg, Dvorak: Violin Sonatas / Capucon, Buniatishvili
Release Date: 10/28/2014   Label: Erato  
Catalog: 625018   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck: Piano Music / Stephen Hough
Release Date: 03/10/1997   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 66918   Number of Discs: 1
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Rachmaninov, Franck: Cello Sonatas / Isserlis, Hough
Release Date: 07/08/2003   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67376   Number of Discs: 1
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Fauré, Franck: String Quartets / Dante Quartet
Release Date: 08/12/2008   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 67664   Number of Discs: 1
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Franck: Symphony in D Minor; Faure, Wagner / Munch
Release Date: 02/22/2011   Label: Ica Classics  
Catalog: 5015   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Panis angelicus

 

About This Work
Franck's music is shot through from beginning to end with a vein of sensual, sometimes cloying, sweetness heard, for instance, in such early piano works as the Églogue (1842) or the ambitious Ballade (1844). It is chromatically distilled with Read more an old-masterly touch, in many pieces of the vast, posthumously published collections for harmonium, the two volumes of L'Organiste. Conflict, in Franck, is almost always psychological -- an inner torment -- rather than dramatic, and when, in his operas or the great oratorio Les Béatitudes, dramatic situations are to the fore, he falls back on operatic formulas -- not necessarily unconvincing or ineffective (as often said), but not his most telling or original music, either. On the other hand, his habit of rapture lends his devotional works an ecstatic sweetness that is peculiar to himself.

His setting of Panis angelicus -- a hymn for the elevation proclaiming that the bread of angels shall be the bread of men, the humble, and the poor -- is the classic instance in its brevity, its contemplative melodiousness, and its suggestive scoring for organ, harp, and cello. But it is also characteristic that, after a brief central section, the return of the opening phrases should place the voice in canon with the cello. Composed in 1872, Panis angelicus is the last in a mixed bag of liturgical works, crowned by the first version of the oratorio Rédemption, following in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War as the bande à Franck, his inner circle of disciples -- Alexis de Castillon, Augusta Holmès, Henri Duparc, Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Albert Cahen, and Arthur Coquard -- began to cluster around him. He was, moreover, on the threshold of his last and greatest creative period. In the same year Panis angelicus was substituted for an O Salutaris in the Messe à trios voix of 1860, as the latter went to press. At the insistence of S. Bornemann, the publisher, the original Messe à trois voix, scored for and often performed with orchestra, was transcribed for organ, harp, cello, and double-bass to render the work more readily saleable. Panis angelicus lacks a double-bass part, which is just as well -- the utter simplicity, suavely ardent sentiment, and sure execution, which have made it one of Franck's most enduringly popular works, could only have been compromised by elaboration.

-- Adrian Corleonis, All Music Guide Read less

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