César Franck

Symphony in D minor, FWV 48

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The most brilliant of Belgian composer César Franck's compositions were written during the final decade of his life; the Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra, the famous Violin Sonata, the D major String Quartet, and, perhaps most important, the Symphony in D minor are all the products of a single, remarkable five-year period. The Symphony, by no means an immediate success with critics or audiences, has nevertheless become so fused with the popular image of César Franck that it is nearly impossible to think of him without also thinking of this 40-minute orchestral juggernaut. And yet the work is by no means an empty audience-pleaser: as with all of his final compositions, the Symphony shows a superb synthesis of Franck's own uniquely rich harmonic language and cyclic themes with the traditions of Viennese Classicism that he had come to revere later in life (principally through the music of Beethoven).

    Franck casts his Symphony in the still-rather unusual three-movement mold. A richly chromatic Lento introduction (almost agonizingly slow) presents the fundamental motivic unit of the first movement: a three-note dotted figure that moves down by semitone and then moves back up again by any either minor third or perfect fourth. The Allegro non troppo body of the movement takes off with a strident, fortissimo utterance of that same basic three note idea and its answer. An angry descending figure imitated at the half-bar, and a more searching, melodic idea round off the material, but Franck, refusing to be bound by tradition, cuts off the motion after just 20 bars to make another go at the introduction, this time a minor third higher (in F minor). Once again, the Allegro non troppo is achieved, and this time the body of the movement is allowed to work itself out. Over the course of the action, a new and triumphant melody (initially in F major) is introduced: this idea, sometimes known as the "faith" motif, will return in the Finale to powerful effect. The B flat minor second movement (Allegretto) displays characteristics of both slow movement and scherzo. The gentle, triple meter dance tune of the English horn (an instrument whose inclusion in a symphonic work was strongly objected to by the Parisian critics of the day) has something of the feel of a Medieval French ballad or dance. The gentle strumming of the harp and pizzicato strings gives way to a more searchingly chromatic consequent melodic strain, attired in attractive sixteenth notes. The middle (scherzo) section of the movement offers a delightful, contrasting dotted melody in E flat major. Throughout this movement, pauses in the rhythmic flow (indicated by fermatas) are used in a graceful manner. The Finale (Allegro non troppo) is altogether more exuberant in tone, beginning with bright wind attacks against a solid background of octave Ds in the strings. A sudden shift to pianissimo is made for the highly syncopated but still flowing main theme (cellos and bassoons, dolce cantabile). As this melody is taken through the characteristically Franckian chromatic depths, both the main theme of the Allegretto and the "faith" motif from the first movement (now offered a more tender treatment) return to fulfill the Symphony's cyclic element. On its second appearance in this movement, the Allegretto theme takes on a power and volume that one wouldn't think possible given its gentle contours during the middle movement. The happy opening melody returns to make a joyous end.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Lento - Allegro non troppo
    2. Allegretto
    3. Allegro non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886691
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2016 Warner Classics 554933
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894822952
    2016 Delos DE 3525
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Erato 0825646154975
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4794306
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Warner Classics 2564633593
    2014 IDIS IDIS 667677
    2014 Sony Classical 88843014642
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon B002046002
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0995
    2013 Broken Audio BRAU 0958
    2013 Sony Classical 7727392
    2013 Hyperion CDA 68046
    2012 Fuga Libera FUG 596
    2012 Naxos 8501057
    2012 EMI Classics
    2012 Urania 181
    2011 Royal Philharmonic Masterworks / RPO 28540
    2011 ATMA Classique 2647
    2011 IDIS IDIS6611
    2011 Challenge Classics CC72383
    2010 Fab Four 233113
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Decca / London 4302782
    2010 Decca
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94079
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999906820
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Scribendum 035
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Membran 231755
    2009 Document / Documents 224042
    2008 Guild Historical 2330/31
    2008 Berlin Classics 0149362
    2008 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 8011
    2008 Medici Arts 26-2
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2007 Amado Classics 4000
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946381783
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 Apex
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 EMI Classics 3724712
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 EMI Classics 72469
    2007 Erato
    2007 Virgin 391331
    2007 Document 223603
    2007 Music & Arts CD1192
    2007 Urania 11930
    2006 RCO / RCO Live 06004
    2006 PentaTone Classics 5186078
    2006 Warner Classics
    2006 Edel Classics 2342
    2006 Angelok 7753
    2006 Music & Arts CD1182
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 459185
    2006 Music & Arts 978
    2005 Berlin Classics 0013582
    2005 Music & Arts CD1173
    2005 RCA Red Seal 67897
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000458802
    2005 Accord 4768069
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 62949
    2005 Rca Red Seal 65833
    2005 Opus KURA 2027
    2005 Berlin Classics 3023
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 58033
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 477 5494
    2005 Silverline Records 284207
    2004 High Definition Classics 15
    2004 History 205651
    2004 Preiser Records 90563
    2004 Silverline Records 288231
    2003 NM Classics 97017
    2003 Philips 000150902
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 4740302
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon
    2003 Tim 220828
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 75459
    2002 Harmonia Mundi 901771
    2002 JVC Compact Discs 18
    2002 CBC Records 5033
    2002 Apex 41372
    2002 Disky 70743
    2002 Boston Records 1048
    2001 Aura Classics 0163
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469069
    2001 Teldec 83025
    2001 Chandos 9875
    2001 History 203133
    2001 History 205253
    2001 Classica d'Oro 1013
    2001 History 205223
    2001 History 204573
    2000 Tring 070
    2000 Amadis 7141
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 66824
    2000 IDIS 336
    1999 Grammofono 2000 78866
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 445512
    1999 RCA Victor 63303
    1999 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243573556
    1999 Ricercar 8003
    1999 Warner Classics
    1999 Music & Arts 657
    1999 Biddulph Recordings 023
    1999 Iron Needle 1394
    1999 Cala Records 525
    1999 Music & Arts 4898
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78843
    1998 Koch Discover International 920434
    1998 Valois 4829
    1998 Sony Music Distribution 60287
    1998 Intersound 2854
    1998 Columbia River Entertainment Group 1170
    1998 Auvidis 4822
    1997 Naxos 553631
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 449720
    1997 Teldec 98416
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 566557-2
    1997 Point Classics 267154
    1997 Dutton Laboratories 2003
    1997 Tahra 124/125
    1997 Grammofono 2000 78750
    1996 Mercury 434368
    1996 Arkadia 627
    1996 Originals 853
    1995 Capriccio Records 10555
    1995 EMI Music Distribution 65559
    1995 Praga PR250 083
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 437827
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 58958
    1994 Naxos 550155
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 68217
    1994 Philips 442296
    1993 ASV 708
    1993 Timpani 4017
    1993 Teldec 74863
    1993 Vanguard 4014
    1993 Chesky Records 87
    1992 Sony Classical 47548
    1991 Telarc Distribution 80247
    Testament 1237
    RCA 60320
    History 205227
    Ermitage 155
    BBC Music Magazine 96
    D Classics 707492
    Denon Records 75199
    As Disc 630
    Iron Needle 1338
    Legend 141
    Seraphim UK 69730
    Timpani 1017
    Collins Records 11582
    Ultima 3984242345
    Philharmonia of the Nations 43
    Arkadia 750.1
    EMI Music Distribution 69008
    Avie 0003
    Vanguard 72011
    Deutsche Grammophon 4000702
    Philips 416214
    Deutsche Grammophon 469071
    As Disc 542
    Excelsior Recordings 015
    EMI Music Distribution 2236
    Music & Arts 236
    Accord 200532
    Artists 34
    EMI Music Distribution 63889
    Collins Records 1158
    RCA Victor 61967
    Amado Classics 04014
    RCA 60146
    Denon Records 17009
    EMI Music Distribution 67723
    History 205653303
    History 203137
    History 205257
    Nickson 1005
    Tim 220830
    Rca Red Seal 987152
    Enterprise 4130
    RCA Victor 61893
    Pearl 9065
    Audi 94
    Testament 2194
    Dell'Arte 9021
    History 204577
    Disques Montaigne 8871
    Arkadia 750
    RCA 6805