Harmony Cesar Franck’s way.

There are times when it can seem irrelevant to be writing about the pleasures of classical music, and in recent weeks it has felt just like that.

Trust me, if by chance you are reading this in 2050, the political climate of 2020 in the UK stretched the definition of the word ‘bizarre’ way beyond the help of Thesaurus. And we’re only in July.

Amidst all this, we are enjoying a summer of such exhilarating sport, providing all sorts of excuses to become idle in submitting a blog. A thoroughly likeable Irishman won our Open Championship on Irish soil yesterday; and only a week before, England became world cricket champions on home turf after such an extraordinary one-day game, which, if described in a book, would probably have been rejected by any sensible publisher as in the realms of fantasy.

I have noticed this with other sites I follow: some have definitely gone on hold, or perhaps on recess.

So it is time to get back in the groove, especially with another pending distraction looming; namely, the Ashes.

It has always struck me as odd that the violin sonata does not include the word ‘piano’ in its title, because as far as I know, every sonata written for the violin has always had a keyboard instrument of some sort for accompaniment. Many of the big names, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, Strauss and more have included these in their huge output; but since I have written about these in the past, it’s a good opportunity to call on César Franck (1822-1890).

His fellow French composer, Claude Debussy (1862-1918) observed that ‘César Franck was single-minded. To have found a beautiful harmony sufficed to make his day happy.’

This is to simplify the voluminous work of a composer which had long-lasting influence in France. Franck was a particularly gifted organist, especially when it came to improvisation (those moments when you have to fill the gap between one part of a service and another.) His father was the ultimate helicopter parent, making Leopold Mozart look like an amateur with his son, Wolfgang. His pushiness led to a breakdown of relations between them, but they were eventually reconciled.

Despite not being appreciated during his lifetime, his compositions finally gave some gravitas to French music, long since the inferior to German. Not enough of his work gets an airing these days, many of us will only hear his Panis Angelicus with any frequency.

Back to that violin sonata, written in 1886, and the work which finally established his worth, and now, possibly the most famous one ever written. My observation about the lack of recognition for the piano is particularly apt for this piece, which is quite fiendish in parts: Franck had large hands and may have underestimated the difficulty of the part for others.

Here is the last movement, the fourth. All of the movements have a common theme and this last one is written in canonic form, where one instrument leads and then the other follows. Debussy’s comment above is embodied in this piece and in this recording. A gorgeous melody is played with lots of colour, sensitive where it needs to be, and majestic without being overbearing.

And now that I’ve written this, it strikes me that my opening paragraph is a load of nonsense. A few minutes of this makes everything better.

And, by the way, if you agree and like what I write and the music I share, perhaps I can prey on you to send the link to a few others? It will motivate me to be a little more disciplined in posting in future.

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