César Franck

December 10, 1822 - Liège (Belgium) — November 8, 1890 - Paris (France)


“Father Franck”, as he was nicknamed by his friends, was born in Belgium. Germanic mists influenced his music but his career took place in France, first as a pianist then an organist. Franck began his career as a virtuoso eleven year old, having already finished the Liege Conservatoire and embarked on piano concert tours. He arrived in Paris in 1833 and studied at the conservatory with Reicha. Organ and composition quickly prevailed over the piano much to his father’s disappointment who would have preferred him to continue his career as virtuoso pianist.

Appointed organist at the Sainte-Clotilde Chapel in 1858, Franck inaugurated the great Cavaillé-Coll organ. From 1872 onwards, he was in great demand from his pupils as organ professor at the conservatory. His knowledge of former masters, his innate sense of formal conception and his kindness charmed Duparc, Lekeu, Chausson, Ropartz, Pierne, Vierne, Tournemire and many more. Franck’s influence in the Paris of the Romantic era cannot be denied. He divided his modest and unassuming life between the organ, his pupils and composition.

Totally ignored during his lifetime, Franck did however leave behind a good deal of masterpieces. Magnifying recurrent themes with an incomparable sense of form, the inspired pages of his orchestral works are numerous. His organ pieces are still a reference although appreciation of his chamber music varies. Between the omnipresence of the past and a Romantic thematic inspiration, Franck remains captivating, sometimes conventional, but always visionary. Henry Barraud was to say that his work “foreshadowed the rapid disintegration of the tonal system”. He was not wrong.