Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Charles Gounod!

Charles Goundo
Charles Gounod (June 17, 1818-October 18, 1893) is best known for his operas Faust and Romeo et Juliette, as well as some sacred works, particularly his Ave Maria. His instrumental works never found the success of his vocal and sacred works. Although not considered a major composer of influence, his works are known for their tunefulness, imaginative vocal writing and orchestral scoring. Stylistically, he was a conservative composer whose influence extended to Georges Bizet, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Jules Massenet.

Gounod's first music teacher was his mother, who was a pianist. She arranged for him to receive composition lessons from the French composer Anton Reicha. After Reicha's death, he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he won a Grand Prix in 1839 for his Cantata Fernand. After graduating he went to Rome to continue his composition studies, where he became interested in sixteenth century church music, particularly the works of Palestrina. By his late 20's, he had become deeply religious and even considered joining the priesthood.

He began composing religious music, with his most famous large scale work becoming the Messe solennelle à Sainte Cécile, which he wrote in 1855. He wrote 19 masses, including two Requiems, as well as a number of motets, cantatas and songs with religious themes. He wrote three works based on the story of Joan of Arc.

Rene Bianco sings "Si les filles d'Arles sont reines" from Mireille:

Though Faust and Romeo et Juliette remain his most famous of his thirteen operas, both Sapho and Mireille are periodically still performed today. Faust, for good reason, has been a favorite of this site, as it has three baritone roles - Méphistophélès, Valentin and Wagner. Here are some of Gounod's most famous baritone arias.

Valentin sings the glorious aria "Avant de quitter ces lieux," as he leaves for war with his friend Wagner, entrusting the care of his sister Marguerite to his youthful friend Siébel.

Méphistophélès providing the crowd with wine, sings Le veau d'or, a rousing, irreverent song about the Golden Calf. 

Méphistophélès, thinking that only Marguerite is at the cottage, sings Vous qui faites l'endormie, a mocking burlesque of a lover's serenade under her window.

The best known baritone aria from Romeo et Juliette is Mercutio's aria Mab, la reine des mensonges. Romeo and Mercutio have come to Lord Capulet's party in disguise. When Mercutio suggests that they should use the opportunity to create trouble with their enemy, Romeo disagrees, saying that the only reason he came was because of a dream he had. Mercutio speaks then of Queen Mab, the queen of all dreams.

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