César Franck (December 10, 1822 – November 8, 1890).
Born the December 10th, 1822 in Liège, then a part of the
Kingdom of the Netherlands, César Franck became one of the leading musical
figures in 19th century France. At an early age he showed an
aptitude for not only music but also drawing. Whatever may have been his
artistic abilities, his father, Nicholas-Joseph, however, envisioned young
César-Auguste (as he was known until his twenties) as a prodigy
pianist-composer in the mould of Liszt and Mozart. Thus, Franck was sent to the
Royal Conservatory of Liège to study piano, organ and harmony with Joseph
Daussoigne-Méhul. He gave his first public concerts in 1834.
The following year, Franck and his younger brother, Joseph,
were taken to Paris to study privately with two professors of the Paris Conservatoire.
Not long after, Nicholas-Joseph sought to formally enter both his sons into the
prestigious school. The Conservatoire, however, did not except foreign
students. Not giving up on his dreams for his two sons, Nicholas-Joseph applied
for French citizenship, which he was granted in 1837, and Franck and his
younger brother officially entered the Conservatoire in October 1837. Franck
excelled early at the piano, taking first prize at the end of his first year of
studies. His training in counterpoint, on the other hand, was not so
remarkable—he did not take first prize until his third year of studies. During
this time, he also took up organ lessons with Franҫois Benoist.
Franck's studies were abruptly cut off in 1842 when he made
a "voluntary" retirement from the Conservatoire. The reasons are not for
certain, but it is likely that Franck's withdraw was at the demands of his
father. Franck led a difficult life in Paris, combining private lessons and
concerts on top of his requirements for the Conservatoire. His concerts were
initially well received, but his father's actions eventually pitted him against
Paris's music critics. Ultimately, Nicholas-Joseph ordered his son to return to
Belgium with him. The return to Belgium, however, was unfruitful. No profitable
concerts were given, critics were indifferent and the Belgian court was
unwilling to give a patronage. With such dismal prospects, Franck's return to his
native country lasted less than two years.
During these years, Franck's first mature compositions
appeared, in particular, a set of piano trios. Liszt saw the works and offered
the young composer constructive criticism. A few years later, Liszt even performed
the works in Weimar. In 1843, Franck premiered his first large-scale work, the
oratorio Ruth. Though it received a somewhat favorable reception from
Liszt and Meyerbeer, it fell flat with the public. Taking cue from this rather
lackluster premiere, Franck withdrew himself from the public spotlight and
focused himself as a teacher and accompanist, accepting occasionally
commissions for the composition of songs and other small works.
In 1846, a friendship and later courtship with one his
private piano pupils, Eugénie Saillot, lead to a severe dispute with his
father. Nicholas-Joseph forbad his son from betrothal and marriage, a right
given to him by French law until his son was 25. His relationship worsening
with his father, Franck walked out his parent's house in July of that year with
nothing but what he could carry. Eugénie's family, who were members of the
Comédie-Franҫaise company, welcomed Franck into their home. Once he turned 25
and out from under the authoritarian grip of his father, Franck informed him of
his intent to marry Eugénie and the two were wed on February 22, 1848.
Career-wise, Franck ultimately found himself, in 1858, as maitre
de chapelle, and eventually as titulaire (primary organist), of the
newly consecrated Sainte-Clotilde. Soon after, compositions for organ, choir
and harmonium began appearing, most notably the Messe à 3 voix and the Six
Pièces. Franck's reputation as an organist grew steadily, often being
called upon to give inaugural or dedicatory recitals for new or rebuilt organs.
He also began giving regular recitals at his parish church. With the help of
Liszt, one particular concert devoted to Franck's organ works garnished the
praise of both audience and critics alike.
When Benoist retired as organ professor at the Paris
Conservatorie, Franck was strongly suggested as his replacement and in 1873 he
officially became a faculty member. As a professor, Franck created a tight-knit
circle of students, among them Vincent d'Indy and Henri Duparc, that often
referred to him as Père Franck ("Father Franck"). Franck even went so
far as to seek his student's input when he was hesitant over compositional
decisions in his own music. Several of Franck's major works date from this
time, including the oratorio Rédemption, the Piano Quintet, the Violin
Sonata and his lone Symphony in D minor. Some were quite successful such as the
Violin Sonata; others received a rather icy response, like the Symphony.
In May 1890, Franck suffered a head injury while riding in a
cab when a horse-drawn trolley struck it. Though he initially appeared to shake
off the injury, his health became increasing worse after that. Later in the
year, a cold turned into pleurisy. Franck died on November 8, 1890. Several
musical notables, including Saint-Saëns, Charles-Marie Widor (his successor at
the Conservatoire) and Gabriel Fauré, attended his funeral mass, held at
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