César Franck

Pieces (3), for organ, FWV 35-37

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Franck was titular organist at the newly constructed and soon to be fashionable Parisian basilica Ste. Clotilde from 1858 until his death in 1890. Considering that the organ was Franck's preferred instrument, he composed -- discounting a number of small, if characteristic harmonium pieces -- surprisingly little for it, though each of his dozen organ works is a milestone in his oeuvre. With the Six Pièces of the early 1860s, for instance, he turned his back on the popular vein of grandes fantaisies and variations brillantes that had occupied his years as a reluctant piano virtuoso for embarkation on a mature style prompted by Beethoven, Liszt, and a blossoming of latent Romantic sensibility evident as early as the unpublished orchestral poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne of 1845-1847 (after Victor Hugo's poem, which had also inspired Liszt). The Three Chorals were Franck's last works, which he was revising on his deathbed, the grand culmination of a lifetime informed by the richest harmonic palette in Western music. Between them, the Trois Pièces, composed in 1878, are contemporary with the startlingly sensual Quintet for piano and strings, and loom as part of that spate of compositions in which the mature style of his last dozen or so years was confidently achieved: the symphonic poems Les Éolides (1875-1876) and Le Chasseur maudit (1882); the piano triptychs Prélude, choral et fugue (1884) and Prélude, aria et final (1888); a violin sonata (1886); and many more. Franck's "disciple" Vincent d'Indy noted that the Trois Pièces were "written expressly for the inauguration of the colossal organ" -- another Cavaillé-Coll instrument -- "at the Trocadéro during the exhibition of 1878...." And he singled out for praise the Cantabile, "with its suave and devotional theme" and its "wonderful canon which, moving with unbroken ease, forms the adornment of the melody, written by the master on purpose to display the warm, expressive quality of the new clarinet stop, recently discovered by Cavaillé-Coll." The pieces flanking the yearningly intimate Cantabile have an appropriately public character, the Fantaisie in A beginning with a stentorian theme in unison octaves -- magnificently woven against a falling/rising wisp of lyricism into a sonic tapestry of light in darkness -- while the Pièce heroïque opens with dramatic swagger to essay a moment of anxious prayer before being moved by a rocking figure on the pedals to a trenchantly triomphale conclusion.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Fantaisie in A major
    2. Cantabile in B major
    3. Pièce héroïque in B minor

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2018
    Lawo Classics
    LWC 1147
    2018
    MDG
    MDG 3162080
    2017
    La Dolce Volta
    LDV 1768
    2017
    MSR Classics
    MS 1638
    2015
    Rondeau / Rondeau Productions
    ROP 6110
    2014
    Phaia Music
    PHU 04748
    2012
    Audite
    AUDITE 21413
    2012
    Brilliant Classics
    94349
    2012
    Querstand
    VKJK 1131
    2012
    Pro Organo
    PO 7247
    2011
    Passion for Pipes / Passion for Pipes Productions
    2008
    ATMA Classique
    2573
    2007
    Apex
    2007
    Fagott Records
    3906
    2006
    Audite
    91519
    2003
    Calliope
    9941/2
    2003
    Ricercar
    223
    2003
    Pro Organo
    7152
    2001
    Naxos
    554698
    2000
    Gothic Records
    49114
    2000
    Cypres Records
    1622
    1999
    LBCD
    91/93
    1999
    Pavane
    7401/2
    1997
    Collins Records
    70442
    1996
    Erato
    12706
    1995
    Cedille Records
    015
    1994
    BIS
    214/15
    1993
    Kontrapunkt
    32053
    1993
    Dorian
    90135
    1990
    Telarc Distribution
    80234
    1990
    Prestant
    1001
    Newport Classic
    60060
    I.L.D.
    642142
    Erato
    94828
    Saga Classics
    9019
    REM
    311108
    REM
    311095
    Musiques Suisses
    6120
    Priory Records
    286