César Franck

Brian Hart

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
César Franck

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César Franck (b. 1822–d. 1890) was a polarizing figure in 19th-century French music. An organ professor at the Conservatoire, he led what amounted to a composition class for students who resisted the officially sanctioned path of learning to write operas in the currently popular style. Drawn to Franck’s own progressive compositions and his artistic integrity, they responded with an extraordinary loyalty that approached worship. They glorified the man they called “Father Franck” or “Pater Seraphicus” as a supremely disinterested artist devoted to writing pure and sublime works instead of merely entertaining the public. For these disciples—whom opponents derisively labeled “Franck’s gang” (la bande à Franck)—his music symbolized the triumph of faith over doubt and good over evil. Despite his personal gentleness, Franck attracted intense opposition from colleagues at the Conservatoire and other conservative quarters, most notably Camille Saint-Saëns, and his music knew little success in his lifetime. (The composer’s genuinely serene response to harsh antagonism deeply struck his supporters.) Battles between Franck’s admirers and detractors raged for many years after his death. Admirers even argued among themselves over his legacy. Many of the so-called franckistes allied with Vincent d’Indy stressed the spiritual content of his music, in both vocal and instrumental works. Others, such as Romain Rolland and Franck’s son Georges Franck, saw him as a great composer of secular music; Georges promoted his father’s operas, while Rolland insisted that the passionate eruptions and sensual emotions of the Piano Quintet and his multimovement symphonic poem Psyché revealed more earthly concerns underneath his genuine Catholic faith. Opponents of franckisme pointed to his Belgian birth and Germanic ethnicity in order to exclude him and his followers from the French tradition. When examining period literature on Franck, the reader should consider the author’s artistic, religious, and sociopolitical biases, because these often strongly inform that writer’s perspective on the man and his music. Franck remains controversial for 21st-century scholars, if for more strictly musical reasons. For many years writers typically confined themselves to generic and subjective observations about Franck’s music, and often they devoted more space to its alleged faults than to its virtues. Since the centenary of Franck’s death, however, important scholarship has appeared regularly, especially in Germany and France; except for the organ music and the Symphony in D Minor, analytic studies in English remain sparse.

Article.  10670 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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