1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Franck, César

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13719931911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11 — Franck, César

FRANCK, CÉSAR (1822–1890), French musical composer, a Belgian by birth, who came of German stock, was born at Liége on the 10th of December 1822. Though one of the most remarkable of modern composers, César Franck laboured for many years in comparative obscurity. After some preliminary studies at Liége he came to Paris in 1837 and entered the conservatoire. He at once obtained the first prize for piano, transposing a fugue at sight to the astonishment of the professors, for he was only fifteen. He won the prize for the organ in 1841, after which he settled down in the French capital as teacher of the piano. His earliest compositions date from this period, and include four trios for piano and strings, besides several piano pieces. Ruth, a biblical cantata was produced with success at the Conservatoire in 1846. An opera entitled Le Valet de ferme was written about this time, but has never been performed. For many years Franck led a retired life, devoting himself to teaching and to his duties as organist, first at Saint-Jean-Saint-François, then at Ste Clotilde, where he acquired a great reputation as an improviser. He also wrote a mass, heard in 1861, and a quantity of motets, organ pieces and other works of a religious character.

Franck was appointed professor of the organ at the Paris conservatoire, in succession to Benoist, his old master, in 1872, and the following year he was naturalized a Frenchman. Until then he was esteemed as a clever and conscientious musician, but he was now about to prove his title to something more. A revival of his early oratorio, Ruth, had brought his name again before the public, and this was followed by the production of Rédemption, a work for solo, chorus and orchestra, given under the direction of M. Colonne on the 10th of April 1873. The unconventionality of the music rather disconcerted the general public, but the work nevertheless made its mark, and Franck became the central figure of an enthusiastic circle of pupils and adherents whose devotion atoned for the comparative indifference of the masses. His creative power now manifested itself in a series of works of varied kinds, and the name of Franck began gradually to emerge from its obscurity. The following is an enumeration of his subsequent compositions: Rebecca (1881), a biblical idyll for solo, chorus and orchestra; Les Béatitudes, an oratorio composed between 1870 and 1880, perhaps his greatest work; the symphonic poems, Les Éolides (1876), Le Chasseur maudit (1883), Les Djinns (1884), for piano and orchestra; Psyche (1888), for orchestra and chorus; symphonic variations for piano and orchestra (1885); symphony in D (1889); quintet for piano and strings (1880); sonata for piano and violin (1886); string quartet (1889); prelude, choral and fugue for piano (1884); prelude, aria and finale for piano (1889); various songs, notably “La Procession” and “Les Cloches du Soir.” Franck also composed two four-act operas, Hulda and Ghiselle, both of which were produced at Monte Carlo after his death, which took place in Paris on the 8th of November 1890. The second of these was left by the master in an unfinished state, and the instrumentation was completed by several of his pupils.

César Franck’s influence on younger French composers has been very great. Yet his music is German in character rather than French. A more sincere, modest, self-respecting composer probably never existed. In the centre of the brilliant French capital he was able to lead a laborious existence consecrated to his threefold career of organist, teacher and composer. He never sought to gain the suffrages of the public by unworthy concessions, but kept straight on his path, ever mindful of an ideal to be reached and never swerving therefrom. A statue was erected to the memory of César Franck in Paris on the 22nd of October 1904, the occasion producing a panegyric from Alfred Bruneau, in which he speaks of the composer’s works as “cathedrals in sound.”