Monday, December 10, 2012

Happy Birthday, César Franck

Gerard Souzay

Today is the birthday of the great composer César Franck and another great excuse to post Gerard Souzay, one of our favorite lieder singers of all-time.

César Franck (December 10, 1822 – November 8, 1890) was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher who worked in Paris during his adult life.  He was born at Liège, in what is now Belgium (though at the time of his birth it was under the Dutch control).

Many of Franck's works employ "cyclic form", a method of achieving unity among several movements in which all of the principal themes of the work are generated from a germinal motif. The main melodic subjects, thus interrelated, are then recapitulated in the final movement. Franck's use of "cyclic form" is best illustrated by his Symphony in D minor (1888).

Gerard Souzay sings Nocturne:

His music is often contrapuntally complex, using a harmonic language that is prototypically late Romantic, showing a great deal of influence from Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his compositions, Franck showed a talent and a penchant for frequent, graceful modulations of key. Often these modulatory sequences, achieved through a pivot chord or through inflection of a melodic phrase, arrive at harmonically remote keys. Indeed, Franck's students report that his most frequent admonition was to always "modulate, modulate." Franck's modulatory style and his idiomatic method of inflecting melodic phrases are among his most recognizable traits.

King's College Choir sings Panis Angelicus:

Unusually for a composer of such importance and reputation, Franck's fame rests largely on a small number of compositions written in his later years, particularly his Symphony in D minor (1886–88), the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra (1885), the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano solo (1884), the Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major (1886), the Piano Quintet in F minor (1879), and the symphonic poem Le Chasseur maudit (1883). The Symphony was especially admired and influential among the younger generation of French composers and was highly responsible for reinvigorating the French symphonic tradition after years of decline. One of his best known shorter works is the motet setting Panis Angelicus, which was originally written for tenor solo with organ and string accompaniment, but is also arranged for other voices and instrumental combinations.

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