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SACD401   CÉsar Franck: Œuvres pour Orgue

 

CD401

César Franck: Œuvres pour Orgue

Roberta Gary, organ

  • 14-page insert with notes in English and French by Gregory Crowell
  • Complete organ specifications
  • 68' 23" total playing time

SACD401     $15.95

Purchase from Canticle Distributing

SACD playable as: 

CONTENTS
     Grand pièce symphonique, Opus 17
1.    I.  Andante serioso, Allegro non troppo e maetoso
2.    II.  Andante
3.    III.  Allegro
4.     IV.  Andante
5      V.  Allegro non troppo e maetoso
6.  Choral n° 2 en si mineur
7.  Prière, Opus 20
8.  Final, Opus 21

Listen Listen:

"II. Andante" from Grande pièce symphonique, Opus 17, by César Franck

 

César Franck: Works for Organ

"The player, the excellent organist Mr. César Franck, displayed all of [the organ's] rich tonal resources, first in a knowledgeable performance of his excellent, austere compositions, and then in brilliant improvisations."

On August 3, 1856, the "Musical Auditions" section of the Revue et gazette musicale de Paris (XXIII, n° 31, 3 août 1856, pp. 247-8) published Henri Blanchard's review of a concert by César Franck in Aristide Cavaillé-Coll's workshop in Paris, on the organ built for the Cathedral of Carcassonne. Lurking within its journalistic tone is certainly the judgment of one who knew best what such an organ could do, and who clearly delighted in an organist whose skill was equal to his imagination. Three years later Cavaillé-Coll had built a relatively small but exquisite organ for St. Clotilde in Paris, and Franck - possibly as a result of the organ builder's direct intervention - was instilled as the organiste titulaire. At the time this review was written, however, Franck had not yet succeeded in winning the organbuilder's undivided devotion, and the two were just beginning their common journey - a journey that was to reawaken the art of the organ in France.

At first glance, this laconic review's separate praise of Franck's compositions and improvisation might seem at odds; "austere" and "brilliant" are hardly happy companions in modern parlance. Yet for Franck, whose introspective and analytical nature prompted him to balance personal expression with formal design, the terms are not at all a contradiction. In effect, the review sums up the very essence of Franck's achievement as player and composer. While the word "austere" might seem derogatory to us today, in fact it was a compliment from someone whose artistic ideals were as elevated as were Cavaillé-Coll's. The mainstay of organ performances at the time consisted often of little more than sonic representations of mounting storms or dancing fleas (to name just two examples by the fellow virtuoso Louis-James-Alfred-Lefébure-Wély). It is noteworthy therefore, that Cavaillé-Coll (if, indeed, he was the author) chose to praise the rigorousness of Franck's own compositions before the brilliance of his improvisations. For Franck, in fact, the two disciplines were not easily separated. His own students repeatedly marveled at his ability to produce refined and sophisticated music spontaneously, introducing the most intricate compositional devices with "disconcerting ease," as his student Louis Vierne once recalled. Franck's own organ classes at the Paris Conservatoire, where he taught from 1872, were very seldom devoted to interpretation, instead concentrating almost exclusively on improvisation. The detail and refinement expected of his students was extraordinary, and his classes were visited frequently by students of composition. For Franck, then, the act of creating music was completely separate from the act of notating music. Once written down, individual pieces might be subjected to numerous revisions by the composer and open for extensive analysis by others, yet none of Franck's finest compositions for organ belies its origins as an essentially spontaneous product of a supremely inventive and disciplined mind.

Franck produced his first collection of significant organ music soon after taking the post at St. Clotilde: the Six Pièces of 1860-62, from which all of the works on this compact disc but one (the Chorale in B minor) are drawn. Certainly Cavaillé-Coll's beautiful organ was an inspiration, but the variety of forms and the rich harmonic language displayed in these six works shows a composer absorbing influences from other composers and media. By this time Franck had written only a handful of relatively minor orchestral works, and the great symphonic pieces such as the Symphony in D Minor were not to be written for another two decades. Yet the orchestral scope of his writing is evident not only in the monumental Grande pièce symphonique, but in the intimately lyrical Prière as well, whose soaring melodic lines, dynamic ebb and flow, and use of solo stops certainly evokes the orchestra. Franz Liszt, whose own music had served as an inspiration to Franck, praised the Six Pièces as deserving a place beside the works of Bach. Implicit in such a statement is surely something more than a token compliment from a friend and supporter. Liszt must have recognized not only the quality of this music, but its uncanny tapping of the orchestral idiom of the Cavaillé-Coll organ, as well. Liszt's own organ compositions are equally colorful, but ultimately bound to the idiom of the piano; indeed, many of his organ works were transcribed for piano without any loss of effect. Only one of the Six Pièces was ever transcribed by Franck (the Prélude, fugue et variation in b minor, transcribed for violin, harmonium and piano; his version for piano and harmonium dates from around 1865); the others could not be subjected to such a transformation without losing much of their identity. If Liszt was a pianist at the organ, Franck took his seat at the organ as a budding symphonist (with an admittedly pianistic technique).

The orchestral character of the Grande pièce symphonique is due not only to its length and range of colors, but to its masterful juxtaposition and transformation of several themes into a unified whole. The first, majestically arching theme is soon interrupted by a march-like staccato melody introduced in the pedal. This eventually gives way to a lilting andante, which features a solo stop in imitation of the orchestral clarinet. These themes vie for attention until the second theme is taken over to form the subject of a concluding, triumphal fugue. By contrast, the Prière (Prayer) all but obsesses on a single theme - a contemplative, sinewy melody in c-sharp minor undergoes a flux of emotions ranging from the pious opening, to a starkly lonely appearance on an unaccompanied solo stop, to an ecstactic climax above a bustingly nervous accompaniement, finally concluding in quiet resignation. The romping Final may seem less than profound, and indeed its coupling with such sublime works as the Grande pièce symphonique and the Prière has subjected it to more than a little derision, even by those who adore Franck's music. Yet every organist understands the value of concluding a service with a rousing postlude, and Franck must have delighted in demonstrating his facility on the pedalboard - a rarity among French organists at the time. If the thematic material of the Final is undeniably trite, its construction is not, for Franck's careful treatment of his themes in the context of a toccata-like style is masterful. So many Parisian organists of the time were given to empty displays of virtuosity that it is tempting to see Franck's Final as a call to elevate the prevailing musical vocabulary, if not the actual style.

Liszt may have acknowledged Bach and Franck as kindred spirits already on the basis of the Six pièces, but it was not until 1890 that Franck sought to confront his own style with that of the great baroque master. For some time Franck had expressed a desire to write a collection of chorales indebted to Bach's great organ chorale preludes. Franck knew and performed a number of Bach's organ works, yet how well he understood the nature of Bach's chorale preludes is not really known. (It wasn't until the publication of Albert Schweitzer's book Bach le musicien poête in 1905 that many French organists learned that the melodies on which Bach based his chorale settings were not composed by Bach, but rather commonly known German hymn tunes and their associated texts). Franck's Trois Chorales were the result. These three magnificent, highly individual works show a mature master whose understanding of the sonority of the late French romantic organ was second only to his fertile command of harmony and form. Of these three chorales, the second in B minor stands out for the clarity of its construction and the mysticism of its language. The work opens with an ostinato theme - a melody that is repeated and varied throughout the work. This ostinato is eventually interrupted by a beatific chorale in the parallel key of B major, played in the otherworldy sound of the voix humaine ("human voice") stop. This is then followed by a toccato-like cadenza, which leads to a reintroduction of the opening theme, now treated as the subject of a fugue. The work closes with a repitition of the B major chorale. It is perhaps difficult to see Franck the improvisor in a work of this size, yet the architectural contours of this work are not difficult to follow, even for the untrained listener, and the actual thematic material is quite straightforward, even simple. (Indeed, the ostinato bass is one of the forms cultivated by every student of improvisation.) The reappearance of the chorale in B major at the end (on the heels of a crashing climax that most composers would have saved for the very end) seems more an inevitably than an innovation. It is as if Franck has clarified his background in order to create a palette on which to display a harmonic language that is all the more intensely chromatic and deeply spiritual. Within months of the completion of the Trois Chorales Franck had died tragically of pleurisy, leaving behnd a small but precious legacy of organ works whose austerity and brilliance continue to amaze and inspire.

--Gregory Crowell

Gregory Crowell is Director of Publications of the Organ Historical Society of the United States.

 

Roberta GaryRoberta Gary is Professor of Organ at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music, where she teaches organ, a graduate seminar in organ literature, and organ pedagogy. She is currently Head of the Division of Keyboard Studies. In addition to her teaching, she is very active internationally as a concert organist and workshop clinician. Her particular specialties have ranged from Liszt, Reubke, Franck, and Messiaen to Bach, Buxtehude, and the meantone repertoire.

Most recently her interest has turned to physical movement and ease in playing. She and her husband,Thom Miles, are certified Andover Educators, and together they present workshops titled What Every Organist Needs to Know about the Body. Roberta and Thom reside in Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

 

Gallery Organ

Église du Très-Saint-Nom-de-Jésus, Montréal, Québec
L'Orgue par Casavant Fréres Lté, St-Hyacinthe, Québec
Built 1915 • Restored 1985-1999 • Opus 600

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gallery Organ

Grand Orgue
16' Montre
16'Bourdon
8' Montre
8' Gambe
8' Salicional
8' Flute harmonique
8'Bourdon
4' Prestant
4' Flûte douce
2' Doublette
2 2/3 Fourniture VI
1 1/3 Cymbale IV
8' Dessus de cornet V
    (middle C)
16' Bombarde
8' Trompette
4' Clairon

Récit (enclosed)
16' Bourdon
8' Principal
8' Bourdon
8' Flûte harmonique
8' Viole de gambe
8' Voix céleste (GG)
4' Prestant
4' Flûte octaviante
2 2/3' Nazard
2' Octavin
2 2/3' Cornet harmonique II
2 ' Plein jeu harmonique III-V
16' Basson
8' Trompette
8' Hautbois
8' Voix humaine
4' Clairon
    Tremblant
    Harpe

Bombarde (enclosed)
8' Flûte double
8' Dulciane
8' Unda Maris
8'-2' Flûte (from Cornet)
4' Flûte (from Cornet)
2 2/3' Nazard (from Cornet)
1 3/5' Tierce (from Cornet)
8' Cornet V
8' Cor anglais
16' Bombarde
8' Trompette
4' Clairon
    Tremblant
    Harpe
Positif
16' Quintaton
8' Montre
8' Bourdon
4' Prestant
4' Flûte douce
2 2/3' Nazard
2' Doublette
1 3/5' Tierce
1 1/3' Larigot
1' Plein jeu V
8' Cromorne
    Tremblant
Pédale
32' Flûte (extension)
16' Flûte
16' Contrebasse
16' Soubasse
8' Flûte (extension)
8' Bourdon (extension)
8' Violoncelle (extension)
4' Octave
4' Flûte (extension)
32' Contre bombarde        (extension)
16' Bombarde
8' Trompette (extension)
4' Clairon (extension)


Chancel Organ
(enclosed)

Chœur
16' Bourdon
8' Montre
8' Bourdon
4' Prestant
4' Flûte conique
2' Doublette
1 1/3' Fourniture II-IV
8' Trompette
    Tremblant
Écho
8' Principal
8' Bourdon
8' Viole de gambe
8' Gambe céleste
4' Octave
4' Flûte
2' Flautino
2 2/3' Cornet II
8' Hautbois
8' Musette
    Tremblant
Pédale
16' Bourdon
16' Bourdon doux (Chœur)
8' Bourdon (extension)