BICENTENARY: César Franck

October 29, 2022, 1:57 AM · Before 2022 slips away, note should be made of the birth of César Franck in December 1822. While the violin sonata (deservedly) holds its place in the repertoire, the quartet and piano quintet do not receive sufficient attention. Once popular, the Symphony in D minor and the Variations Symphoniques for piano and orchestra have been dropped from concert programmes. In the case of the latter, is there a growing prejudice against 'things that are not quite concertos'? But Franck is more than a one-work organ-loft composer: his music is characterized by rich harmony and a wonderful flowing quality and should not be neglected.

Replies (25)

October 29, 2022, 3:50 AM · Entièrement d'accord!
October 29, 2022, 5:49 AM · Totally. AND, he was Belgian! (sort of...Belgium did not exist yet when he was born)
October 29, 2022, 6:45 AM · He was indeed Jean! France tends to “borrow” composers...I’m thinking of Lully, Offenbach, Delius...but we’ll forgive them!
Edited: October 29, 2022, 11:06 AM · Franck has some interesting stuff beyond the 3 or 4 pieces he's known for. His romantic contrapuntal style is certainly much more inviting than, say Reger's. I'm quite fond of this one, which my dad used to play often.

October 29, 2022, 11:08 AM · Christian...what a great father, to play this often. Yes, Franck’s piano music is wonderful, and much of his organ music will delight a wider audience than it usually reaches.
October 29, 2022, 11:59 AM · Thanks Christian. I like the piano arrangement more than I do the organ version.
October 29, 2022, 2:23 PM · I agree Stan, although I find the organ version to have it's own kind of cosmic, transcendental flavor as opposed to the more intimate piano arrangement. Weissenberg's treatment seems to take advantage of the piano's possibilities more than a lot of other piano renditions I find on Youtube.

Yeah, Richard, my dad had a very particular sense of sound and touch at the piano, so there are a number of pieces that no matter what version I hear, I don't find them nearly as gratifying; although on this one, I don't recall him playing the fugue and variations ;-)

Apropos of this thread, I just learned that Franck wrote a string quartet; who knew?

October 29, 2022, 4:30 PM · I knew.
October 30, 2022, 4:06 AM · hi Christian that tune is quite well known I think, it is used in a famous movie but I forget which one. very nice to have that memory of your father. my own father passed away a few weeks ago. it was him who brought me as a young child to music school for children and had me pick an instrument (I picked violin, totally randomly, but I'm glad I did).
October 30, 2022, 5:15 AM · Jean, I'm sorry to hear of your loss, I hope the link with your Dad through music is a comfort.
October 30, 2022, 4:43 PM · I'm sorry about that, Jean. Music and fathers, huh? Franck's students called him Pere Franck, I guess from the closeness and influence he had on his students.
October 30, 2022, 4:50 PM · Just three years after its composition Franck's string quartet was put in the deep shade by Debussy's. Maybe it deserves to be re-evaluated (but I don't think so).
October 30, 2022, 5:04 PM · I don't know if this is of interest, but my six or seven times great grandfather was a manufacturer of church organs in Belgium called Hyppolite Loret. Family folklore has it that under a quirk of Belgian law, children could choose to inherit on the death of the first parent, which my ancestors did when Hyppolite's wife died.

So he had to sell everything (he employed 300 people at the time so this must have amounted to a significant endeavour). After this, he decided to relocate to Paris and start again (he wanted to compete with Cavaille-Coll). When he got there, Cesar Franck, who was a friend, managed to help him become established by making introductions that resulted in some commissions to build organs. Apparently, Franck played at the inauguration of one of them.

So I guess for me, I'll always have a soft spot for Cesar Franck.

Edited: October 30, 2022, 5:51 PM · Steve, I dunno. There’s a view of music that is guided by a principle that could be called “let’s make progress”, which favours new harmonic procedures, scales and other adventures. Debussy fits into that school, though I don’t know that everybody recognizes his contribution: two weeks ago an ‘A level’ music student ‘corrected’ me for naming Debussy as the first C20 radical. Perhaps it was his teacher’s simplified music history.

Franck is certainly not a radical! His music is solid, slightly old-fashioned and firmly anchored in the nineteenth century. Like Elgar’s, perhaps? There we have another single quartet that should be heard more often.

Tony, that’s a great story! César Franck seems to have been a loyal and gentle man. By the way, is there any truth to the tale that if his wife didn’t like what he was playing at home, she’d yell, “César, c’est abominable”?

Edited: October 31, 2022, 6:16 AM · Probably true, Richard. She particularly disliked his piano quintet. I have read that he might have been battling a particular temptation (how effectively, I don't know for certain) when he was writing it.
It is actually one of my two favourite piano quintets, even though its slow movement lacks the haunting quality of that of the Symphony.
I am not, however, so keen on Panis Angelicus (or Mozart's Ave Verum).
October 31, 2022, 9:02 AM · I have limited direct exposure to Franck. I probably have read through the famous Franck Sinatra at least once, but the only serious work I have done is on the piano quintet.

Funny story there-- our summer camp was encouraged to find places to try out pieces before the recitals at the end. We got booked to play the second movement of this at a nearby church. A very old-school, plain-white-painted Baptist church with a hard-shouting guest minister. You couldn't find a less appropriate place for such a perfumed, decadent piece of Catholic frippery. And this movement, in particular, was supposedly written while Franck was nursing a crush on one of his students. When his wife heard it the first time, she slapped him.

Anyway, we did a nice job and they loved it.

Edited: October 31, 2022, 6:15 PM · The second movement is a little slight, compared with the outer movements and the Symphony slow movement. What's your source for saying it's this movement in particular that was influenced by the crush (I called it a temptation)? Or did you employ a certain other Belgian to ferret this one out?
Edited: October 31, 2022, 7:37 PM · Can't remember where I read it. He might have gone so far as an affair with the student. Not the first time such a thing would have happened. And his wife was known to have disliked the piece.
November 1, 2022, 1:35 AM · Record labels and programme planners seem to go for sets of quartets - cycles of Beethoven, Schubert, Bartok etc. It might be a idea to take 'orphan quartets'. Franck, Elgar...Debussy and Ravel qualify...Verdi, Puccini's 'Crisantemi'... .
November 1, 2022, 5:10 AM · Not to mention Chausson, Fauré, Sibelius..
November 1, 2022, 6:03 AM · ...and Grieg. Now we need a quartet and a venue... .
November 1, 2022, 9:23 AM · Grieg is a sleeper. Debussy seems to have been 'inspired' by aspects of that one.
November 1, 2022, 4:26 PM · Kreisler
November 11, 2022, 2:24 AM · Franck's vocal music is not well known, but some of these chançons would play beautifully, on the viola or cello, maybe, rather than violin. They are exquisitely performed here by Tassis Christoyannis with Jeff Cohen, piano. (The encore is by Reynaldo Hahn.)

Armistice Day 2022

November 11, 2022, 2:56 PM · Franck's let-down vocal work is, paradoxically, well known enough for it to feature in a novel by one of Anthony Trollope's descendants (I dare one of you to pipe up with "But I LIKE Panis Angelicus"!).

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