César Franck MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of César Franck

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César Franck MP3, CDs & Vinyl, Music of César Franck

César Franck: Overview

César Franck: César Franck, in full César-auguste Franck, (born Dec. 10, 1822, Liège, Neth.—died Nov. 8, 1890, Paris, France), Belgian-French Romantic composer and organist who was the chief figure in a movement to give French music an emotional engagement, technical solidity, and seriousness comparable to that of German composers.

Cesar Franck's father was of Flemish stock and belonged to a family who had worked for more than a century as directors or superintendents in the mines of the Walloon district of the modern Belgium. Both Cesar and his brother Joseph showed marked musical gifts and were sent at a tender age to the Liege Conservatoire. When Cesar himself was twelve, he had already completed his first tour as an infant prodigy with his brother Joseph, who was a violinist. The ambitious father now removed the whole family to Paris, where Cesar first studied privately with Reicha, an admirable musician and author of a number of the oretical works as well as much well-written and attractive chamber-music. In 1837 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where his feats of transposition and contrapuntal improvisation when competing for the pianoforte and organ prizes became legendary. His father, however, anxious to exploit his talents financially, removed him from the Conservatoire before he had time to compete for the Prix de Rome. Cesar spent the years 1842-3 travelling on concert tours with his brother and composing, in the first place showy piano-pieces for his own repertory, but much more interestingly four piano trios which won him an enviable reputation as the list of subscribers shows. This included the names of and as well as the internationally famous opera composers Meyerbeer, Spontini and Donizetti and such gods of the Conservatoire as Adam, Auber, Halevy and the rare French chamber-music composer Onslow. Cesar Franck's first orchestral composition, a biblical oratorio entitled Ruth, had its first performance in 1846, at the Conservatoire.

Cesar Franck was already resentful of his father's insistence on his continuing the most financially rewarding side of his musical career, but in 1846 this resentment was intensified when he became engaged to a young woman whose mother was the actress Desmousseaux. The conventional Cesar Franck family were horrified by this alliance, but after a wedding celebrated at the height of the 1848 revolution Cesar Franck settled down to earn his living not by concert-giving but by teaching. This involved him for almost the whole of the rest of his life in an unceasing round of drudgery, since it meant travelling all over Paris to the houses of his pupils, while at week-ends he was taken up with his work as organist and choirmaster at a succession of Paris churches - Notre Dame de Lorette, St Jean-au-Marais and finally St Clotilde.

His position at the Conservatoire, where he was eventually made Professor of the Organ in 1872, was complicated paradoxically by the extreme simplicity, even naivete, of the man himself. He confronted the many intrigues for position and pupils among his colleagues by a disconcerting innocence which won him the dislike and distrust of the majority, but the whole-hearted admiration, amounting in some cases almost to adoration, of the few. What was officially an organ class came to be known among the students as in fact the class in which much more general musical problems were discussed in the light of contemporary musical ideas, most notably those of Wagner which were tabu with the professors of composition. Before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 Cesar Franck already had a number of private composition pupils, including Henri Duparc and Alexis de Castillon, who were instrumental in attracting some of the most gifted and musically inquisitive of the younger composers. These included, during the 1870s and 1880s, Vincent d'Indy, Pierre de Breville, Charles Bordes, Ernest Chausson and the Belgian Guillaume Lekeu. In d'Tndy Cesar Franck found not only an extremely gifted musician but a man of ambition and determination with all the gifts for organisation and propaganda that he himself lacked. This group of young composers, known as 'la bande a Cesar Franck' soon became a force to be reckoned with in French musical life, which had received in the war and the Commune a salutary shock. While the Conservatoire retained much of its old complacency and continued to train musicians chiefly for the opera or the opera comique, Cesar Franck and his pupils devoted themselves to symphonic and chamber-music.

Cesar Franck himself continued until the mid-1870s to write music either for the church itself, or of a distinctly ecclesiastical nature; notably the two oratorios Redemption (1873) and Les Beatitudes, written between 1870 and 1880. The first of three symphonic poems, in which the influence of Liszt was immediately noticeable, was Les Eolides (1877), and this was followed by Le Chasseur maudit (1883) and Les Djinns ( 1 884), which contained an important part for solo pianoforte. In 1885 Cesar Franck produced another work for orchestra and pianoforte, Variations symphoniques, which many consider his masterpiece. Indeed, during the 1880s, when the composer was already in his sixties, Cesar Franck produced a large body of work incomparably more interesting and original than any that he had composed earlier. A piano quintet was followed by the monumental Prelude, choral et fugue and the hardly less ambitious Prelude, aria et final, both for pianoforte; and a symphony in D minor and a string quartet in D major completed the tally of this extraordinary 'second spring'. Two operas written during the same period, Hulda and Ghisele witness to his phenomenal productiveness at this time, although they reveal no real gift for the theatre.

Although Cesar Franck obtained little or no official recognition for his music during his lifetime, he was idolised by his pupils and no less a personage than Liszt was willing to attest to the superb musical character of his organ improvisations. The organ remains in fnany ways the key to his musical personality, and the Trois pieces pour grand orgue (1878) and Trois chorals (1890) were unique in the organ literature of the day. In his use of the orchestra he often betrays a taste for the sonorities characteristic of organ 'mixtures', while the frequent antiphonal passages standing between dramatic rests or fermatas reflect the physical habits of the organist moving from one manual to another or altering registration. Even the strongly chromatic character of his harmony, though no doubt derived ultimately from the music of Liszt and Wagner, suggests the action of the organist's fingers or feet executing a sliding semitonal descent on the keys or pedals. The note of high-pitched idealism or rapturous adoration, frequent in his music, is not always set off by a corresponding forcefulness of the same musical quality; and it was not without reason that he was charged with an inability to give musical expression to more mundane or negative moods. Even his mature pianoforte music occasionally reflects the showiness and facility of his early virtuoso music; and none of his works achieve the sustained grandeur and solemnity of his Austrian contemporary and, in many ways counterpart, Anton Bruckner. The violin sonata, which he wrote in 1886, for his fellow - Belgian Eugene Ysaye, is perhaps his finest monument, alone worthy to be set by the side of the Variations symphoniques.

Like many other men of his temperament, Cesar Franck unfortunately chose as his wife a woman who quickly succeeded to the position hitherto occupied in his life by his parents; and he only exchanged one set of tyrants, anxious to exploit his gifts financially, for another. He found consolation for this not only in the affection and respect of his pupils in general, but in the devotion of one in particular, the Franco-Irish Augusta Holmes. Although Cesar Franck died in 1890, chiefly as the result of being knocked over by an omnibus, his spirit was the guiding force in the formation a few years later of the Schola Cantorum under the direction of two of his favourite pupils Charles Bordes and then Vincent d'lndy, whose biography did much to present the idealised picture of Cesar Franck and his music which inevitably led in time to a reaction and a consequent under-valuing of Cesar Franck's music itself and of his influence in the development of French music.

César Franck was born of a Walloon father and a mother of German descent. He showed unmistakable musical gifts that enabled him to enter the Liège conservatory at the age of eight, and his progress as a pianist was so astonishing that in 1834 his father took him on tour and a year later dispatched him to Paris, where he worked with the Bohemian composer Anton Reicha, then professor at the Paris Conservatory. In 1836 the whole family, including the younger son Joseph, who played the violin, moved to Paris, and in 1837 César Franck entered the Paris Conservatory. Within a year he had won a Grand Prix d'Honneur by a feat of transposition in the sight-reading test, and this honour was followed by a first prize for fugue (1840) and second prize for organ (1841). Although the boy should now normally have prepared to compete for the Prix de Rome, a prize offered yearly in Paris for study in Rome, his father was determined on a virtuoso's career for him and his violinist brother, with whom he gave concerts, and therefore removed him prematurely from the conservatory.

In order to please his father and earn much-needed money, César Franck gave concerts, the programs of which were largely devoted to performing his own showy fantasias and operatic potpourris, popular at that time. After 1840, when he turned his attention increasingly to the organ, his compositions became noticeably more serious, and three trios written at this time were to impress favourably the Hungarian composer . A more ambitious work was the cantata Ruth, which had its first performance at the conservatory on Jan. 4, 1846.

Unwilling concert giving, a number of bad press notices, and the teaching needed to supplement his income took a physical toll of his powers. Only when he had finally asserted himself against what amounted to the unscrupulous exploitation of his gifts by his father could he achieve maturity and peace of mind. César Franck fell in love with an actress with the professional name of Desmousseaux, whose real name was Félicité Saillot, but because both her parents also worked in the theatre, the family was regarded as unsuitable by the elder Franck, and his son was obliged to leave home some time before marrying her in 1848. After his marriage Franck's way of life changed little for his remaining 42 years. He earned his livelihood as an organist and teacher and led a simple, almost ascetic life.

In 1851 he was appointed organist to the Church of Saint-Jean-Saint-François and in 1858 to that of Sainte-Clotilde, where he was already choirmaster. From the organ loft of Sainte-Clotilde came the improvisations for which he was to become famous and also their elaboration in organ and choral works. This music is all marked by the taste of the day, which was for a facile tenderness and saccharine sweetness in ecclesiastical music.

More important to César Franck's career as a composer was his appointment as organ professor at the Paris Conservatory in 1872, which came to him as a surprise because he had indulged in none of the preliminary intrigue customary in such cases. His open-heartedness and lack of sophistication were to make him enemies among his colleagues as well as friends among his pupils. This enmity was increased by the fact that his organ classes soon became classes of composition, and his pupils not infrequently proved superior to those of the conventional composition professors.

The nucleus of a school of disciples had already begun to form around César Franck, but only after the founding of the National Society of Music (Feb. 25, 1871) was a real future assured for the type of music that he was interested in writing and communicating to his pupils. When Vincent d'Indy, a French composer, joined the group of César Franck's pupils in 1872, he brought an enthusiasm, a propagandist zeal, and an exclusive personal devotion that played a large place in restoring César Franck's confidence in his powers. With Ernest Chausson, Pierre de Bréville, Charles Bordes, and Guy Ropartz the Franck circle was complete in the early '80s, and subsequently d'Indy's very high claims (in his biography, César Franck, 1906) led for a time to the suspicion that César Franck was “a creation of his own pupils.”

The music that he went on to write makes it clear that this is not true. As a composer César Franck fulfilled his potential only in the last 10 years (1880–90) of his life. His Symphony in D Minor (1888), Variations symphoniques (1885), Piano Quintet in F Minor (1879), String Quartet in D Major (1889), Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano (1886), and several organ pieces mark him as one of the most powerful French composers in the second half of the 19th century. His music is marked by soaring, almost improvisatory melodic flights.

Certainly his early years as performer and composer of virtuoso music left an indelible mark on his musical taste, as can be heard unmistakably in the last movement of the Prélude, aria et final for piano (completed 1887) and even momentarily in the Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra. On the other hand, some of his weaker music represents an almost excessive reaction against superficiality and aspires to emotional intensity at all costs, drawing for the purpose on the examples of , , and, more remotely, .

César Franck died, partly as the result of a street accident, in 1890. The new seriousness of French music in the last quarter of the 19th century derived entirely from César Franck and his pupils. Much has been made of his angelic sweetness and simplicity of character, his selflessness and innocence in the ways of the world. These traits are reflected in a blandness of manner, and they proved a handicap when César Franck was faced with the necessity of producing strongly contrasting musical ideas, as in the oratorio Les Béatitudes (written during the 1870s and performed posthumously) and the symphonic poems Le Chasseur maudit (1882; The Accursed Hunter) and Les Djinns (1884). On the other hand, the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano and the Variations symphoniques remain as all but perfect monuments of a warm and noble musical nature and a strong, thorough craftsmanship that have survived all changes of taste and emotional attitudes.

César Franck: CDs & Vinyl

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César Franck: MP3

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