Sunday, June 17, 8818

Charles Gounod (1818-1893) - Funeral March

Charles-François Gounod (June 17, 1818, Paris, France - October 18, 1893) was the son of a pianist mother and a draftsman father. His mother was his first piano teacher. Under her tutelage, Gounod first showed his musical talents. He entered the Paris Conservatoire where he studied under Fromental Halévy.

He won the Prix de Rome in 1839 for his cantata Ferdinand.

He subsequently went to Italy where he studied the music of Palestrina.

Gounod eventually returned to Paris and composed the Messe Solennelle, also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass, first performed in London during 1851 -- the work which began his reputation as a noteworthy composer.

He wrote two symphonies in 1855; the Symphony No.1 in D Major was the inspiration for the Symphony No. 1 in C, composed later that same year by Georges Bizet, who was then Gounod's 17-year-old-student.

Gounod wrote his first opera, Sapho, in 1851, but had no great success until Faust (1859), based on the play by Goethe. The romantic and highly melodious Roméo et Juliette (based on the Shakespeare play), premiered in 1867.

Many critics believed Faust was a far advancement over Gounod's prior works. One critic stated his doubt that Gounod composed it, which prompted Gounod to challenge the critic to a duel. The critic withdrew his statement.

From 1870 to 1875 Gounod lived in England, becoming the first conductor of what is now the Royal Choral Society. Much of Gounod's music from this time is vocal or choral in nature.

Fanny Mendelssohn introduced the keyboard music of J.S. Bach to Gounod, who came to worship the composer as a god. For him, The Well-Tempered Clavier was "the law to pianoforte study ... the unquestioned textbook of musical composition."

Later in his life, Gounod returned to his early religious impulses, writing much religious music.

These included an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from The Well-Tempered Clavier, to which Gounod set the words of Ave Maria. He also wrote Inno e Marcia Pontificale, now the official national anthem of the Vatican City.

He died in 1893 in Saint-Cloud, France, as he put the finishing touches to Le Grand Requiem, inspired by the death of his grandson, a major work which he was never to hear performed.

One of his short pieces, Funeral March for a Marionette,

became well known as the theme to

Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

[8819 Offenbach / 8818 Gounod / 8815 Emmett - Dixie]