Cesar Franck

César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck (10 December 1822 – 8 November 1890) was a composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher who worked in Paris during his adult life.

In 1858 he became organist at Sainte-Clotilde, a position he retained for the rest of his life.

He became a professor at the Paris Conservatoire in 1872; he took French nationality, a requirement of the appointment.

His pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Guillaume Lekeu and Henri Duparc.

In 1835, his father resolved that the time had come for wider audiences, and brought César-Auguste and his younger brother Joseph to Paris, to study privately: counterpoint with Anton Reicha and piano with Pierre Zimmermann. Both men were also professors at the Paris Conservatoire.

When Reicha died some ten months later, Nicolas-Joseph sought to enter both boys into the Conservatoire.

However, the Conservatoire would not accept foreigners; Nicolas-Joseph was obliged to seek French citizenship, which was granted in 1837.

In the interval, Nicolas-Joseph promoted concerts and recitals in Paris featuring one or both boys playing popular music of the period, to mostly good reviews.

Young Franck and his brother entered the Conservatoire in October 1837, César-Auguste continuing his piano studies under Zimmerman and beginning composition with Aimé Leborn.

He took the first prize in piano at the end of his first year (1838) and consistently maintained that level of performance.

His work in counterpoint was less spectacular, taking successively third, second, and first prizes between 1838 and 1840.

He added organ studies with François Benoist, which included both performance and improvisation, taking second prize in 1841, with the aim of competing for the Prix de Rome in composition in the following year.

However, for reasons that are not explicit, he made a “voluntary” retirement from the Conservatoire on 22 April 1842.

As far as Nicolas-Joseph was concerned, the excursion was a failure, and he brought his son back into a regime of teaching and family concerts in Paris, which Laurence Davies characterizes as rigorous and low-paying.

Yet there were long-term benefits for young Franck.

For it was from this period, extending back into his last Conservatoire years and forward beyond his return to Paris, that his first mature compositions emerged, a set of Trios (piano, violin, cello); these are the first of what he regarded as his permanent work.

Liszt saw them, offered encouragement and constructive criticism, and performed them some years later in Weimar. In 1843, Franck began work on his first non-chamber work, the oratorio Ruth.

It was privately premiered in 1845 before Liszt, Meyerbeer, and other musical notables, who gave moderate approval and constructive criticism.

Unwilling concert giving, a number of bad press notices and the teaching needed to supplement his income took a physical toll of his powers.

Only when he had finally asserted himself against what amounted to the unscrupulous exploitation of his gifts by his father could he achieve maturity and peace of mind.

Franck fell in love with an actress with the professional name of Desmousseaux, whose real name was Félicité Saillot, but because both her parents also worked in the theater, the family was regarded as unsuitable by the elder Franck, and his son was obliged to leave home sometime before marrying her in 1848.

After his marriage, Franck’s way of life changed little for his remaining 42 years. He earned his livelihood as an organist and teacher and led a simple, almost ascetic life.

Franck died, partly as the result of a street accident, in 1890.

The new seriousness of French music in the last quarter of the 19th century derived entirely from Franck and his pupils.

Much has been made of his angelic sweetness and simplicity of character, his selflessness and innocence in the ways of the world.