César Franck


César Franck, whose pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Henri Duparc and Guillaume Lekeu, is regarded as one of the central innovators of French music in the 19th century, despite his German-Belgian roots. Even during his lifetime, he was hailed by many members of the Société nationale de Musique as the most important French symphonist and legitimate heir to Beethoven, which ultimately led to a veritable idolisation of his person, culminating in Vincent d’Indy’s biography published in 1906.

César-Auguste Franck was born in 1822 in Liège, which at the time was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. From 1831, he studied at the Conservatoire Royal in his home town and soon after wrote his first piano compositions in the virtuoso ‘Style brillante’. At the end of May 1835, his father accompanied his son to Paris as an impresario, where he received further lessons and worked as a piano accompanist. This was followed by piano and counterpoint studies at the Conservatoire de Paris – at a time when Franck was giving some of his most successful concerts in the salons of piano maker Henri Pape on Liszt’s recommendation. On 2 August 1838, he was awarded a 1st prize in piano playing, a first in the history of the conservatory. After pursuing a virtuoso career for several years, Franck, who continued to be championed by Liszt, was appointed ‘organiste accompagnateur’ at the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette church in Paris in May 1847. During the Second Empire, Franck worked as a sought-after teacher, piano accompanist and church musician. In 1857, he was appointed ‘maître de chapelle’ at the church of Sainte-Clotilde, where he eventually became the principal organist. In 1872, Franck was then appointed to the organ class at the Conservatoire, where he ultimately taught composition from the organ. Some of his most important works were composed in the last decade of his life, including three symphonic poems, the Symphony in D minor, the sonata for violin, the string quartet and the [Trois Chorals] for organ. Franck was appointed president of the Société nationale de musique, which he co-founded in 1871. Overworked and ill, he withdrew from public life after a car accident at the beginning of July 1890, before dying in Paris in November.


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