Happy 200th Birthday, César Franck!
This year marks the bicentenary of composer César Franck. Born on December 10, 1822, in Liège, Belgium, Franck was well known in his lifetime as a pianist, composer, organist, and teacher. However, it wasn’t until after his death in 1890 that his compositions began to truly gain the recognition they deserved. Throughout the early twentieth century, Franck’s only symphony, Symphony in D, was a hallmark of the orchestral canon. But by the end of the century, Franck's magnum opus had ostensibly fallen off the map. With Franck’s bicentenary this year, there has been renewed interest in his compositional output, and his symphony and other works have made their way onto concert programs around the world.
Among organists, however, Franck has long been revered as arguably the most important composer for the instrument after J.S. Bach. After the French Revolution, many French organs lay in disrepair, and there was little interest in serious organ repertoire. Franckalmost single-handedly transformed the musical trajectory of French organ music, both through his compositions and his teaching at the Paris Conservatoire. His pioneering extended compositions for the organ, which combined German structural and expressive ideas with French lyricism and orchestral colors, blazed the trail for a generation of French Romantic organist–composers, such as Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Marcel Dupré. (Even if you know nothing about organ music, you will undoubtedly recognize the Toccata from Widor’s Symphony no. 5, a favorite at weddings.)
To celebrate Franck’s bicentenary this year, organists around the world have honored his legacy by performing his complete organ works in concert. One such organist is Dana Robinson, Professor of Organ at the University of Illinois, who will be presenting part three of his recital series of the complete organ works of César Franck on Saturday, December 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel of St. John the Divine. For a stunning example of Franck's organ music, we recommend Choral No. 3 in A Minor.