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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hail César Franck

This review of mine, of R.J.Stove’s excellent new biography of the great 19th century composer César Franck, appears in The Spectator (Australia).

Neil Clark: Hail César

César Franck: His Life And Times
By R.J. Stove
Scarecrow Press Inc, $68.99, pp. 368
ISBN 9780810882072

Described as ‘mediating between the tradition of the German instrumental music and French classicism’, César Franck was a composer, organist and pianist who produced some of the 19th century’s finest musical works. Yet despite the regard in which he was held by his peers (‘he writes very beautiful music very seriously’ was the verdict of one Ferenc Liszt) he remains, in the words of his Australian biographer — and fellow organist — R.J. Stove, ‘the most underestimated and misunderstood of the 19th century’s musical masters’.

Stove’s new life, the first English language biography of Franck to appear since the early 1970s, will hopefully put that right. In his opus we get plenty of clues as to why Belgium’s finest composer hasn’t always received the credit he deserves.

You can read the whole of the review here.


Douglas said...

Despite taking a number of music courses at university, and performing in a number of different musical organizations (church choir, community chorus, community theatre, madrigal group, symphony chorus), somehow I've never listened to or performed any Franck compositions. A gap in my musical experience.

The Franck work that Google suggested first is the Symphony in D Minor, written near the end of his life.

I did have the happiness of being in the chorus for a performance by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra of Anton Bruckner's Psalm 150. Bruckner was a composer of roughly the same period as Franck. But I remember thinking to myself as we performed "This is the music of a heaven-bound man!"

R J said...

Many thanks to Mr Clark and to Douglas!

I think anyone new to Franck's compositions would find that the D Minor Symphony makes an admirable start. It was - as I mentioned in the preface of my book - only the second Franck piece that I'd ever heard (Panis Angelicus, sung at dozens of church weddings, was the first).

Then there is the great Sonata for Violin and Piano, which is in almost every violinist's repertoire. Probably Franck's big organ works aren't a terribly good introduction; either you like Franck's output or you don't, and if you do, then you'll seek out the organ works automatically. If you don't, then I suspect the organ works wouldn't of themselves win you over.

Here's a dirt-cheap guide to Franck's Hottest Hits:

Martin Meenagh said...

Lovely review this, many thanks--it made me make time on a busy weekend for Franck.

Hope all is well,


jock mctrousers said...

Well, that was a very pleasant diversion from the dismal news all round ( or a diversion from the class struggle, arguably, I admit). I'll definitely check out the book and the greatest hits cd. Thanks Neil, Douglas, and of course R.J. himself in person.

Neil Clark said...

Cheers Douglas, Martin & Jock. We need to have some pleasant diversions at times from all the dismal news!
Thanks too to R.J. Stove for producing such an excellent book.