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César Franck

César Franck was born in Belgium but established his career as a composer, organist, and influential teacher in France, most prestigiously at the Paris Conservatoire and at the church of Sainte-Clotilde. His music was heavily influenced by Liszt and Wagner, as in his Symphony in D minor, one of his most famous compositions. Franck's organ pieces are among the most celebrated Romantic works for that instrument, though his symphonic poems, chamber music (particularly the Sonata for Violin in A), and sacred choral settings are also regularly performed. Franck was born in Liège (in the French region, which in 1830 became part of a new state, Belgium), on December 10, 1822. He 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. For much of his life, Franck was organist at the Paris churches of Saint-Jean-Saint-François and then Sainte-Clotilde, and in 1872 he became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. He led a group of young composers, among them d'Indy, Duparc, and Dukas, who found 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. Individual and instantly recognizable though Franck's 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, an inheritance from Wagner, and shifting harmonies. There is a Germanic ponderousness in some of his compositions and a mixture of paradoxical elements so typical of the composer, such as moments of peace and serenity that barely conceal an undercurrent of disquiet. These elements were used to great advantage in the Symphony in D minor of 1888, where Franck also 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 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, yet his choral works were slightly less successful than his organ works. However, his religious, solo vocal piece Panis Angelicus (1872) is highly popular and frequently recorded. Franck's most lastingly successful and recognizable composition is his Violin Sonata in A (1886), which shares characteristics with the Symphony and has been transcribed for a multitude of other instruments. 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.
© TiVo Staff /TiVo


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