Monday, December 12, 2005
So, next after Berlioz, in France, came Cesar Franck. They were equally original, each in his own direction, and both attained singular eminence as exponents of the tone-language; and yet nothing could be more striking than the contrast between these two masters: Berlioz, the robust, virile, aggressive realist, who went about the realization of his lofty, absorbing artistic ideals in the most straight-forward, practical manner; and Franck, the gentleminded, shy, devout dreamer, whose soul seemed to lose contact with the earth, in the mystic realm of spiritual visions. While Berlioz excelled in dramatic intuition and in his command of orchestral technique, Franck was far more scholarly, more thoroughly trained in the technique and structure of musical composition.
Franck studied at the Conservatory in Liege until his fifteenth year, then at the Paris Conservatory, becoming in 1872 a Professor at that institution. In 1853 he was appointed Choirmaster at St. Clothilde, in 1857 organist there.
Equally famous as organist, instructor, and composer, he exerted a strong and enduring influence upon the younger school of French writers; among his distinguished pupils were Lekeu, Debussy, Vincent d'Indy, and many others. Franck was especially noted for his improvisations at the organ, which are said to have been, as unhampered effusions of his richly gifted poetic and religious nature, of indescribable beauty and impressiveness. Having gained comparatively late in his modest career the recognition due him in his adopted country, Franck died, in Paris, November 8, 1890.
Franck was not a hasty or prolific composer, and the list of his (invariably fine) works, though not meager, is not as long as might have been expected. He left only one Symphony, but a number of Symphonic-Poems, five Oratorios, three Operas, several Chamber-music works, many organ pieces and other compositions, and a few Songs.
Franck's methods of musical expression, particularly as concerns melody and harmony, were distinctive, not to be confounded with those of any other great master. His harmonies are incomparably sinuous, iridescent; his modulations incredibly flexible; his counterpoint fluent but firm; and the structure of his larger forms, while not everywhere in absolute conformity with traditional models, is always logical, clear, and effective.