Monday, December 12, 2005


Franck: Symphony in D minor

Cesar Franck's one and only Symphony, in D minor, was written in 1889, a year before his death, and represents therefore a fully mature product of his long artistic life. In contains three Movements only, thus reverting to the original type of the symphony. Its first Movement is cast in the sonata-allegro mold, but the method of its presentation is unique: the principal Theme is stated twice, in succession, the first time in slow, stately tempo, with strong emotional emphasis, and in the manner of an Introduction, and then in rapid tempo, in more concise, passionate, dramatic tones. Immediately after this the entire twofold presentation is restated, in sequence (a third higher), but otherwise literally. A brief Transition leads over into the subordinate Theme, and from this point on, the form of the whole Movement is normal.

It cannot escape the observant listener that Franck makes frequent use of the Sequence (a "repetition" on other, higher or lower steps); its shifting motions seemed to be more congenial to his conceptive habits than the more stable effect of actual repetitions. The latter, it will be recalled, was a strikingly persistent and essential feature in the music of Beethoven, and that of all the classics.

The second (slow) Movement is a genuine, characteristic specimen of Franck's musical conception, especially as regards melodic delineation. Its principal Theme, a complete lyric Double-period, is of haunting, indescribably touching quality, introspective, sorrowful but not despairing. The design is Second-Rondo, and both of the subordinate Themes are cheerful in mood. The structural manipulation of this Movement is masterly to the last degree: an ingenious and unique adjustment of novel methods to classical traditions.

The Finale is fundamentally sunny in spirit; vigorous at times, but nowhere boisterous, and contemplative rather than vivacious. The insertion of the somber chief melodic period of the slow Movement (as second Codetta, and again in the Coda) effectually subdues the optimistic aspirations of the Movement; and the allusions to important thematic units of the opening Movement---in the third and fourth Sections of the Coda---have an excellent unifying effect. The form, sonata-allegro, is curiously abbreviated: the Recapitulation presents only the principal Theme---the subordinate one is omitted.


So, do you actually like it? I find it fascinating, but I'm not entirely convinced. A lot depends on the interpretation.

Yes, I do like it. It is a sweet which I would, however, only entrust it to a French conductor. My recording is by Pierre Monteux and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It is paired with Stravinsky's Petrouchka.

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