Gounod had two new operas staged in the 1850s before he wrote this symphony. The first,
was a success but <was not, it is
not heard today. Disappointed by his failure to follow up on the success of
Sappho, Gounod went to the Monastery of Saint Augustine and considered getting serious about an old dream of his, to enter religious life. Then he wrote a two-part orchestra work, an "Andante and Scherzo." This was premiered in Paris in 1855 and acclaimed.
Gounod found it liberating to write absolute music with no staging or dramatic requierments. He added a pair of outer movements to make the work a symphony (speeding up the tempo marking of the slow movement a little bit to "Allegretto moderato"). The result is a nice symphony of classical proportions (about twenty-eight minutes), restrained emotions, good humor, and bright, clear orchestration.