César Franck

Grande pièce symphonique, for organ in F sharp minor, Op. 17, M. 29

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    It cannot be doubted that Franck was one of the most gifted musicians of the nineteenth century. After a brief, frustrating career as a reluctant child prodigy and virtuoso, Franck escaped from his tyrannical father into marriage and the modest life of a church organist, though his ambitions were anything but small. By 1847, when he took his first post as organist, at Notre Dame de Lorette, the greatest challenge facing a serious composer was the attainment of a comprehensive certainty of style. If Saint-Saëns, Gounod, and Bizet looked back to Classical models for their symphonies, Franck -- with his preternatural aptitude for counterpoint -- espoused the works of Bach and the later Beethoven as his models, though his assimilation of these two (at that time) rather recondite tributaries proved both haphazard and creatively transforming.

    When Franck moved into a new post as organist of the just-constructed, soon-to-be fashionable Parisian basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, with its superb Cavaillé-Coll organ, he was spurred to his first attempt to cut through the Gordian knot of style with his Six Pieces for Organ. Though their precise dating is disputed, they seem to have taken shape between 1858 and 1864. As one might expect, they are a rather mixed bag, with the Prière essaying facile religious sentiments, yet with that touch of chromatic yearning which marked Franck as a mystic to his contemporaries; the Prélude, Fugue et Variation looking ahead to the great piano triptychs of the 1880s; a Final touched with the spirit of Offenbach; and the imposing Grande Pièce symphonique which demonstrated that the great Romantic organ could rival an orchestra in works of symphonic scope.

    Revealingly, it is dedicated to Charles-Valentin Alkan, a composer and virtuoso given to facetious stylistic toying. More to the point, in 1857 Alkan had published his monumental Douze Études dans tous les tons mineurs, Op. 39, which included -- for solo piano -- a symphonie in four movements, and the stupendous concerto in three. Though played without a break, the Grande Pièce symphonique is usually analyzed as being in three movements -- the development of the central Andante leads to a scherzo-like Allegro, as in the great Symphony in D Minor (1888). The opening Andante serioso makes large gestures soon halted by a second, anxiously questioning theme, and the two are developed in something very much like sonata first movement form. The central Andante is notable mainly for its cloying, chromatically pleading melody. After reminiscences of the foregoing, in the manner of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the initial theme is fugally worked to a brilliantly resounding peroration. It was heard for the first time with Franck's premiere of the Six Pièces at Sainte-Clotilde on November 17, 1864.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Andantino serioso
    2. Andante - Allegro - Andante
    3. Allegro non troppo e maestoso

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2014 Phaia Music PHU 04748
    2012 Audite AUDITE 21413
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94349
    2012 Pro Organo PO 7247
    2008 ATMA Classique 22574
    2007 Apex
    2007 Fagott Records 3906
    2007 Chandos 5056
    2006 Audite 91518
    2005 Arsis 401
    2005 Calliope 5920
    2005 Circles 51
    2005 Direct-to-Tape 9301
    2005 Organ Arts 4135
    2004 OrganArts 4002
    2003 Calliope 9941/2
    2003 Calliope 3229
    2003 Ricercar 223
    2003 Pro Organo 7152
    2003 Pro Organo 7159
    2002 Telarc Distribution 60516
    2002 Telarc Distribution 80516
    2001 Motette 20301
    2001 Gothic Records 49125
    2001 Naxos 554697
    2000 Pro Organo 7084
    1999 LBCD 91/93
    1999 Pavane 7401/2
    1999 Gothic Records 49108
    1998 ATMA Classique 22183
    1997 Collins Records 70442
    1996 Erato 12706
    1996 Arts Music 447113
    1994 BIS 214/15
    1993 Simax 1072
    1993 Centaur Records 2053
    1993 Kontrapunkt 32053
    1993 Dorian 90135
    1991 Motette 11381
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80234
    Newport Classic 60060
    Lindenberg 91
    Pro Organo 7124
    Unicorn-Kanchana 9014
    I.L.D. 642142
    Erato 94828
    Bayer Records 100091
    Chamade 5627
    Gia 272
    Encore Performa 9703