Cesar Franck  
Cesar Franck

César Franck, photographed by Pierre Petit
Cesar 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.

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, 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 Franz Liszt. 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. 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.

César Franck at the console, painting by Jeanne Rongier, 1885


More important to 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 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 Franck’s pupils in 1872, he brought an enthusiasm, a propagandist zeal, and an exclusive personal devotion that played a large place in restoring 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 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 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 Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, and, more remotely, Beethoven.

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 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 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.

Martin Du Pré Cooper

Encyclopædia Britannica

Monument to Franck at the Square Samuel-Rousseau
Kurt Masur conducts Cesar Franck - Symphony in D minor
00:00 Lento - Allegro
17:09 Allegretto
27:06 Allegro non troppo

New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Kurt Masur.

César Franck Symphony D Minor Orchestre National de France, Leonard Bernstein
César Franck Symphony in D Minor 1886/1888
Orchestre National de France conducted by Leonard Bernstein
I. Lento; Allegro ma non troppo
II. Allegretto 19:23
III. Finale: Allegro non troppo 30:50
César Franck: Grande Pièce Symphonique
Grande Pièce Symphonique (1863)

Bert van Stam
Kathedraal Sint Bavo, Haarlem
Live recording June 25th 2012
First master recital organ
Recording: Jos van der Linden

Cesar Franck - Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major
David Oistrakh-violin, Sviatosla Richter-piano
César Franck - Vioolsonate in A - Frederieke Saeijs (viool) & Nino Gvetadze (piano)
Young Pianist Festival, Amsterdam 20 november 2013
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ

César Franck - Vioolsonate in A

Frederieke Saeijs (viool) / Nino Gvetadze (piano)

Franck - Piano Trio No. 1 (Trio concertant) in F sharp minor, Op. 1/1 (1840)
Piano Trio No. 1 (Trio concertant) in F sharp minor, Op. 1/1, M. 1 (1840)

1. Andante con moto [0:00]
2. Allegro molto [10:12]
3. Finale: Allegro maestoso [17:32]

This is the first trio for piano, violin and cello by Belgian-French composer César Franck (1822-1890). Composed at age 18, this trio was Franck's début composition, and in it he already makes use of the cyclic form which would characterize many of his later works. As Franck's disciple Vincent d'Indy wrote in Cobbett's encyclopedia of chamber music, "With its budding genius, this trio (Op.1 No.1) marks an epoch in the history of musical evolution... alone at this period, the young composer ventured to plan his first important work according to ideas which Beethoven did little more than touch on in the last years of his life."

Although this isn't the same breathtaking, classic performance by Richter, Kagan and Gutman posted earlier on my channel, the Trio Novanta also gives a very admirable account of the work here.

César Franck - Piano Quintet in F minor
- Composer: César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck (10 December 1822 -- 8 November 1890)
- Performers: The Schubert Ensemble (of London)
- Year of recording: 2001

Piano Quintet in F minor, M. 7, written in 1878-1879.

00:00 - I. Molto moderato quasi lento
16:06 - II. Lento, con molto sentimento
26:38 - III. Allegro non troppo, ma con fuoco

The Piano Quintet, one of the earliest masterpieces of Franck, marked his return to chamber music after more than 35 years. The work was dedicated to Saint-Saëns who, although he played the piano part in the premiere, so strongly disapproved of the musical language of the composer that he rejected the dedication.

- The first movement opens with a dramatic introduction, Molto moderato quasi lento, by the bowed strings. The piano replies in a gentle manner. The strings restate their opening. The piano turns even more gentle. The dialogue continues along similar lines until the piano suddenly launches into the Allegro. The second subject is characterized by a wistful inflection to minor. The development reaches a stormy climax. A passage mirrors the introduction. The reprise is very intense, but it concludes fading away.
- The second movement, Lento, con molto sentimento, is also in sonata form. It opens with a motive with a falling figure on the first violin, with a background of repeated chords of the piano. The atmosphere gradually turns more tragic. Then, a gentle melody in the lower strings is accompanied by piano in the high register. In the central section, the piano brings back the second subject of the opening Allegro. The reprise is again highly dramatic.
- The finale, Allegro non troppo ma con fuoco, is characterized by a relentless rhythmic drive. It opens with a repeated soft motive in the strings from which the first subject emerges. The second subject begins with a piano theme accompanied by the strings. The agitation continues throughout. Near the ending, the second subject of the Allegro reappears. But the rhythmic urgency resumes and brings the work to an intense conclusion.

Sviatoslav Richter - Franck - Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
César Franck - Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
- Composer: César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck (10 December 1822 -- 8 November 1890)
- Performer: Alfred Cortot
- Year of recording: 1929 (remastered)

Prelude, Chorale and Fugue {Prélude, Choral et Fugue} for piano, M. 21, written in 1884.

Not until the spring of 1884 did Franck come to grips, in an era contentiously preoccupied with Wagner and just beginning to appreciate Beethoven's later works, with the task of reviving the forms which had moved Bach. Accordingly, a searchingly ruminative prélude and the swiftly running fugue -- beginning with angst-laden drama to conclude in triumphantly incandescent peals -- were composed together. Only then did the lack of something expressively and architecturally linking become apparent, prompting the composition of the great harped chorale, resounding across the keyboard and requiring the left hand to reach over into the treble to chime the theme. The upshot is an elaborately figured, chromatically inflected, and texturally rich essay in which doubt and faith, darkness and light, oscillate until a final ecstatic resolution. Mlle Poitevin, to whom the Prélude, Choral et Fugue is dedicated, gave the work its premiere at the Salle Pleyel, under the auspices of the Société National de Musique on 24 January 1885. It was published in the same year by Enoch.

The interconnectedness and thematic relationships (particularly the cyclic recall of the prelude and chorale in the fugue) make this an unorthodox example of double-function form. It uses a Chromatic fourth motif in the Chorale and the Fugue, and the work itself is an exemplar of Franck's distinctive use of cyclic form.

César Franck - Quatuor à Cordes
Monumental quatuor que César Auguste Franck compose après l'écoute intégrale des quatuors de Beethoven paraît-il. On sent peut être un peu l'influence du 14è cependant.
César Franck: Choral No.1 en Mi Majeur
Su-Ryeon Ji performs "Choral No.1 en mi majeur" by César Franck ( Recorded live on Dec 3, 2011, on the Aeolian-Skinner Organ at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA)
Cesar Franck: Choral 2 in B Minor
C. Franck: Chorale no. 3 in A minor (M.C. Alain)
Trois chorals pour grand orgue
Choral no 3 en la mineur (Quasi allegro)

Marie-Claire Alain at the Cavaille-Coll organ of the Eglise de St. François de Sales (Lyon, France)

César Franck Pièce Héroïque.
Vincent Dubois plays all César Franck works in concert Soissons Cathédrale.
Cesar Franck's "Pièce Héroïque" played by Marcel Dupré
Franck Organ Final in Chicago
Mark Laubach, 1984 Winner of the American Guild of Organist's national organ-playing competition, performs Cesar Franck's Final, Opus 21, from Franck's Six Pieces for organ, on the Berghaus organ at Grace Lutheran Church in the River Forest (Chicago), Illinois.
Arturo Toscanini conducts César Franck - Redemption
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