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Pierre's Tuesday Blog

César Franck (1822 - 1890)

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I had originally programmed this post for our Organ and Lent series, but decided to push it off to make room for my Marie-Claire Alain post. Let's call this some bonus organ, shall we...

According to Britannica online, Belgian-French composer César Franck “was the chief figure in a movement to give French music an emotional engagement, technical solidity, and seriousness comparable to that of German composers”. Among Franck’s composition students and disciples we count Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Pierre de Bréville, Charles Bordes, and Guy Ropartz.

Admitted to his hometown conservatory of Liège at the age of eight, Franck’s 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 Anton Reicha, then professor at the Paris Conservatory.
Franck enrolled officially at the Paris Conservatory at age 17, and after winning several prizes there he pulled out of the institution prematurely, at his father’s insistence, to pursue a concert career. After 10 years spent travelling, composing and performing, Franck married in 1848 and settled down - he earned his livelihood as an organist and teacher and led a simple, almost ascetic life.

We acknowledge many of Franck’s compositions - 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). However, today’s post focuses on Franck as an organist and composer of orhan works. Picking up our story, Franck was appointed organist to the Church of Saint-Jean-Saint-François in 1851 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.

As an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation, and on the basis of merely twelve major organ works, Franck is considered by many the greatest composer of organ music after Bach. His works were some of the finest organ pieces to come from France in over a century, and laid the groundwork for the French symphonic organ style. In particular, his Grande Pièce Symphonique, a 25 minute work, paved the way for the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré.

The key to his music may be found in his personality. His friends record that he was "a man of utmost humility, simplicity, reverence and industry." Louis Vierne, a pupil and later titular organist of Notre-Dame, wrote in his memoirs that Franck showed a "constant concern for the dignity of his art, for the nobility of his mission, and for the fervent sincerity of his sermon in sound. […] Joyous or melancholy, solemn or mystic, powerful or ethereal: Franck was all those at Sainte-Clotilde."

Today’s playlist provides a good overview of Frabck’s organ legacy. Happy listening!


César FRANCK (1822 - 1890)

Offertoire (E-Flat Major) from "L'organiste, 1er volume", FWV 41, no. 28
Diego Innocenzi
INSTRUMENT: Cavaillé-Coll, St. François-de Sales, Lyon, France

Prélude, fugue et variation (B Minor), FWV 30
Michael Murray
INSTRUMENT : 1888 Cavaille-Coll-Organ Of St. Sernin, Toulouse

Fantaisie (C Major), FWV 28
David Enlow
INSTRUMENT: St Mary the Virgin, New York

Choral (no. 3, A Minor), FWV 40
Gerard Carter
INSTRUMENT: Théodore Puget, Père et Fils organ at Kincoppal-Rose Bay Chapel, Sydney.

Grande pièce symphonique (F-Sharp Minor) , FWV 29
André Marchal
INSTRUMENT : Grand Orgue de l'église Sainte-Eustache in Paris.

Psaume 150 (Louez le Dieu, caché dans ses saints tabernacles) chœur avec orchestre et orgue, FWV 69
Xaver Varnus on the great organ
The Budapest Tomkins Vocal Ensemble, The Budapest Opera Orchestra
Conducted by Tamás Vásáry

Pièce héroique, pour orgue , FWV 37
Katalin Mali
INSTRUMENT: Angster pipe organ of the St. Theresa Cathedral in Subotica Serbia

Final (B-Flat Major), FWV 33
Mark Laubach
INSTRUMENT: Berghaus organ at Grace Lutheran Church in the River Forest (Chicago), Illinois.


April 12 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "C'est fantastique" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel . Read more April 12 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.
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Updated Apr-09-2013 at 13:15 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Composers , Recorded Music


  1. ptr's Avatar
    Thanks for the inspiration Pierre! Just played a mirror version of Your Franck Playlist!

  2. itywltmt's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ptr
    Thanks for the inspiration Pierre! Just played a mirror version of Your Franck Playlist!

    How flattering...