Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

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01Birth And Breakaway20140224

According to popular wisdom (and pub quizzes), famous Belgians may be a bit thin on the ground, but as Donald Macleod makes clear in this week's Composer of the Week, César Franck (1822-1890) surely deserves to be in that number. Born in Liège the son of a domineering father, he showed great musical promise at an early age. A pianist of prodigious gifts, and very large hands, he was soon being displayed to the world by his proud father. But when the family moved to Paris, his first attempt to enrol at the city's Conservatoire was a failure - he was deemed too young, and too Belgian! He was driven to compose at a very young age and, although his juvenilia has not stood the test of time, he made a good impression with his Opus 1, a piano trio, impressing such luminaries as Franz Liszt. Forced by his father into a punishing regime of touring, teaching and performance, by his mid-twenties César longed to break away from the paternal grasp. When it came, the rupture was occasioned by the small matter of a song - l'Ange et l'Enfant - and the woman to whom it was dedicated.

02Marriage And Musicianship20140225

Donald Macleod focuses on Franck's attempts to marry the woman of his dreams.

Donald Macleod continues his look at the life and career of Belgian composer, César Franck. After years under the heel of his domineering father, by his mid-twenties Franck is prompted to stand up to the bullying Nicholas-Joseph, all in the name of love. He was determined to marry one of his pupils, to whom he dedicated a song. Franck even moved out of his family home to join his future in-laws. When finally, in 1848, he was able to marry the woman of his dreams, he was faced with a riot - not between his parents and in-laws, but between pro and anti-government forces! Marriage broadened his outlook and introduced him to the pleasures of literature, which in turn would inspire some of his composition, such as the orchestral meditation, Ce qu'on Entend sur la Montagne. Meanwhile, we find Franck eking out a living by teaching, and by playing the organ. The revival of French organ making by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll would transform Franck's view of the instrument, and inspire him to compose some of his finest music for the instrument.

03War And The Franckistes20140226

Donald Macleod on Franck and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, plus the 'Franckistes'.

What did you do in the war, Papa? In today's programme Donald Macleod finds César Franck and his sons caught up in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The composer is now at the head of an adoring band of young composers - Franckistes - eager to learn from the master, even when the public at large was indifferent. In the midst of a siege, Franck volunteers to help keep Paris alive through deliveries of fuel and portions of chocolate. He is also be inspired to start work on his epic choral work, Les Beatitudes which, like most of his works, would endure a disastrous premiere! After the war, Franck's followers would establish the Société Nationale de Musique. As we'll discover, this was generally good news for the promotion of instrumental music. But as Franck's circle of young composers grew ever wider, a rift would start to appear between César and his wife Felicité, who grew increasingly resentful of their presence. Nevertheless, Franck managed to pen the one song by which he is best known to the world: Panis Angelicus. With his Trois Pièces written for organ, he would also impress audiences in the vast hall of the Trocadero Palace!

04Holmes And The Mystery Romance20140227

Donald Macleod on the turbulent background to Franck's celebrated piano quintet.

Were they in love? Did anything happen? The rumour mills of musical Paris were never more active than when the whiskery César Franck appeared to pay inordinate attention to a glamorous female pupil, one Augusta Holmès. Donald Macleod continues his account of the life and times of the Belgian composer, looking at the turbulent background to his celebrated piano quintet. Now a professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, Franck continued to try his hand unsuccessfully at composing for the opera stage. With a plot deemed too violent for public performance, he salvaged some measure of self-respect by getting some of the music performed as a ballet - he even danced to some of it whilst in his nightshirt!

05 LASTThe Final Years Of Pere Franck20140228

Donald Macleod on how Franck received belated recognition for his services to music.

Donald Macleod completes this week's look at the life and works of the Belgian composer, César Franck. In France, Franck was made a knight of the Legion of Honour for his services to the Paris Conservatoire, but it was in Belgium that he enjoyed some of his few successes. One of these was the premiere of his violin sonata, composed as a wedding present for his compatriot Ysaye, and first performed at the wedding breakfast! Further strain on his own marriage came with the composition of his erotically-charged symphonic poem, Psyché; Mme Franck 'mislayed' her tickets to the first performance. Franck was eventually struck down in the prime of life through the most banal of accidents, involving a horse-drawn bus, and he ended his days completing a final testament to his profound religious faith - his Three Chorales for organ.