Charles Gounod

Meditation on Prelude No. 1 of Bach, for violin or cello & piano with organ or cello ad lib. (or other instrumental arrangement)

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Gounod had taken the Grand Prix de Rome in 1839. During his stay in that city, he met pianist and composer Fanny Hensel, Mendelssohn's married sister, who made a lasting impression on the unctuous young man by playing the works of Bach and Beethoven to him. In 1852, now married, Gounod looked back to that time of discovery and one day at the piano spontaneously improvised a long-spun, Italianate melody over the first Prelude of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. His father-in-law had him repeat it, jotted it down, and soon after had it performed for the bemused composer in an arrangement for violin. A choral arrangement suddenly appeared and the Latin words of the sixteenth century "Hail Mary" -- Ave Maria, gratia plena... -- inescapably became affixed to it. Performed at a Pasdeloup concert as Méditation sur le première prélude de Bach on April 10, 1853, it proved irresistible and entered upon its phenomenal popularity while establishing -- with a broad, contemporary public -- Gounod's theretofore wavering reputation. But musical puritans have never ceased to tax Gounod with traducing a classic by the addition of treacly sentimentality. Gounod's melody, however, is a fine specimen of Bellini-like bel canto and obviously self-commending, while Bach's curious broken-chord harmonic progressions -- forecasting not only the accompaniment figures of the next generation's style galant, but Romanticism's reliance on rippling arpeggios for fulsome grandeur -- must have seemed to cry out for cantilena. Faced with success and censure at once, the composer attempted to dismiss the Méditation as an "espièglerie" -- an arch prank -- though he was not above similarly adapting another Bach prelude as an Ave Maria in 1889, without conspicuous success.

    Appears On

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    2016 Athene / Divine Art ATH 23205
    2015 Sony Classical 88875103161
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    2013 ABC Classics PLU 348830
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