About this Recording
9.70146 - GOUNOD, C.-F.: Marche funebre d'une marionnette (Slovak Radio Symphony, Breiner)

Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Marche funèbre d’une marionette


The French composer Charles Gounod stemmed from a formidable cultural family tradition going back to the seventeenth century. His father François-Louis, who died when his son was five, was a painter, a friend of Ingres, and his mother, to whom he owed his early musical training, was a pianist, a pupil of Louis Adam, father of the composer Adolphe Adam. Born in Paris in 1818, Gounod took lessons in harmony and counterpoint from Anton Reicha and in 1836 entered the Conservatoire, studying counterpoint with Halévy, composition first with Berton and then with Le Sueur and finally with Paer, and taking piano lessons with Zimmermann, whose daughter he later married. He won the second Prix de Rome in 1837 with the cantata Marie Stuart et Rizzio, failed to win a prize in 1838, but in 1839 took the first Prix de Rome with his cantata Fernand. He made good use of his time in Rome and then in Germany, returning to Paris with an unusually wide experience of musical traditions other than the French. Unsuccessful with his early operas, he won lasting fame for his opera Faust, staged in 1859 and revised ten years later, establishing an unassailable position in French music for this and other works. His unexpected death in 1893 was the occasion for widespread mourning in France at the passing of one of the leading composers of the Second Empire.

A change had come in the course of Gounod’s life when, in 1870, after the outbreak of war between France and Prussia, he moved to England. There he was able to provide music to suit the prevailing tastes of the time, to compose music for the flourishing English choral societies, and to appear as a choral conductor. Matters were complicated by his association with the amateur singer Georgina Weldon and her musical enterprises, which did little for his health or his reputation. It is to this period that his Funeral March of a Marionette belongs. Scored first for the piano, it was published in London in 1872 and orchestrated in 1878, after his return to France. The March is familiar as the signature tune used by Alfred Hitchcock for his television series, suggesting, as it does, a feeling of suspense. It was originally intended as part of a Suite Burlesque and represents the funeral march of a marionette, the coffin accompanied by other members of the troupe.

Keith Anderson

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