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Classical Composers A-Z: Cesar Franck

Peter Wintersgill features the Belgian-born composer, Cesar Frank, whose best works were composed towards the end of his life

10th December, 1882, in Liege, Belgium

Bank official


One brother

Started learning the piano very early, becoming an infant prodigy. Played duets with his brother, who played violin. Toured Belgium aged 11.

Entered Paris Conservatoire aged 15.

Early Adult Life
Settled in Paris in 1844, aged 22. Married in 1848. Became known as a skilled pianist and organist. Was praised by Liszt, who compared him to Bach. His works were not appreciated by the public till later in life, but this did not appear to worry him. Wrote many organ pieces, eg. six pieces for organ in 1862 and three pieces for organ in 1878. Became organist of St. Clotilde in 1858.

Later Adult Life
His oratorios included Tour de Babel (1865), Les Beatitudes (1868-79), Messe Solenelle (1858).

Appointed Professor of Organ at Conservatoire in 1872, where he upset some of his colleagues but became popular with his pupils, who included D’Indy and Chausson. They, along with some of the others, put on a concert of his works in 1887, which was a flop. However, that did not seem to worry Franck.

His best works were written after 1881, during his last ten years, eg. Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano (1884), Les Djinns, for piano and orchestra (1884), the romantic Variations Symphonique for piano and orchestra (1885) and chamber works such as violin and piano sonata (1886) and piano quintet (1879).

His symphony in D minor (1888) failed to please the audience, but the String Quartet (1889) succeeded. Franck merely remarked, “You see, the public is beginning to understand me.”

He died in Paris on 8th November, 1890, aged 68, from pleurisy.


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