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8.550155 - FRANCK: Symphony in D Minor / Prelude, Choral et Fugue

cesar Franck (1822- 1890)

Cesar Franck (1822- 1890)

Symphony in D Minor

Prelude, choral et fugue (orchestrated by Pierne)


Belgian by birth, French by adoption a,'1d largely German in parentage, Cesar Franck has been illuminatingly compared with the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. Born two years before the latter in 1822 in the Walloon district of Liege, Franck showed such early musical precocity that his father resolved to make the most profitable use of his son's talents by compelling him to the career of a virtuoso pianist. Study at the Liege Conservatoire was followed, in 1837, bya period at the Paris Conservatoire, which he left in 1842 to return to Belgium and to the concert platform. Two years later the family were back again in Paris, where Franck failed to make an impression either by his compositions or his appearances as a performer.


Franck's relative failure as a virtuoso pianist and his association with Feiicite Saillot Desmousseaux, whose parents were actors in the Comedie-Francaise, led to a breach with his own family. In 1848 he married, continuing to earn a living by teaching and as an organist, while slowly developing his powers as a composer. It was principally as an organist, with phenomenal powers of improvisation, an element reflected in his compositions, that he was to succeed in Paris in these middle years of his life, with appointment in 1858 tothe church of Ste. Clotllde, with its new Cava111e-Coll organ. In 1871, after a period in which he had won the loyalty and affection of a group of pupils, led by Duparc, and in which his music had been performed under the auspices of the societe Nationale, a body devoted to the promotion of Ars Gallica, he was appointed to the position of professor of organ at the Conservatoire.


From the mid-1870s onwards Franck devoted himself to composition, influenced in particular by hearing, in 1874, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, which made a profound and lasting impression on him. At the Conservatoire he made himseif unpopular with conservative colleagues by seeming to trespass on their territory, since his organ classes were influential among a group of young composers, in particular his pupil Vincent d'lndy, who proved the most loyal and devoted of apostles of the teacher known to the bande a Franck as Pater Seraphicus.


The 1880s saw the composition of a number of important works, including the Symphonic Variations, the Violin Sonata, the Piano Quintet, the Quartet and the Symphony. A concert devoted to his music in 1887 proved disastrous and his work continued to appeal principally to a small band of followers. Franck died in 1890, after a short illness. It was after his death that his work came to be appreciated by a wider public, while his influence on a whole school of French composers continued. His name has been principally associated with the development of so-called cyclic form, in which the unity of a work is ensured by recalling earlier thematic material and by a practice that may owe something to Liszt's principle of thematic metamorphosis, unkindly described by one hostile critic as the life and adventures of a theme.


Franck's Symphony in D minor was completed in 1888 and first performed in one of the Concerts du Conservatoire the following year. It was dedicated to Duparc. The work opens with a slow section, starting with the lower strings, with a poignant addition from the violins, followed by an Allegro passage leading to a return of the slow section, now in F minor. Lento and Allegro are to alternate in what follows, the exposition of the first movement including the famous and characteristic Faith theme. The material is developed in a central section, followed by the re-appearance in canon of the opening Lento, heavily scored, and the freely handled recapitulation.


The second of the three movements of the symphony combines slow movement and scherzo. Plucked strings and harp introduce a solo for an instrument that contemporaries regarded as most unsuitable for a symphony, the cor anglais. The second principal element in the movement is the scherzo section, in which the clarinet is entrusted at first with the new theme, to be interwoven and contrasted with the material of the first section.


The final movement opens, after six introductory bars, with a theme for cellos and bassoons. A second theme is introduced by the trumpet, accompanied by cornets, trombone and tuba. The movement goes on to include re-appearances of the second movement cor anglais melody and of the Faith theme of the first movement, as the symphony advances towards its triumphant conclusion.


Franck's Prelude, choral et fugue of 1884, although written for the piano, an instrument in which he had begun to show renewed interest at the time, shares with the symphony clear signs of the organ-loft. The opening Prelude, improvisatory in style, contains in it the seed from which the fugal subject is to grow. Both Prelude and Choral re-appear in the final Fugue, an example of the composer's contrapuntal mastery.


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