Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major: An Enduring Wedding Gift, “Con Amore”

One of the most famous and enduring works of the violin repertoire began as a wedding gift. In 1886, César Franck presented the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano to the great Belgian violinist, Eugène Ysaÿe, on the occasion of his wedding to Louise Bourdeau. At the time, the 64-year-old Franck was best known as a prominent organist and professor at the Paris Conservatory. Ysaÿe, a committed champion of new French music, …

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Grande Pièce Symphonique: Franck’s Symphony for Solo Organ

On Monday we listened to César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, a piece in which the orchestra turns into a living, breathing pipe organ. Now, let’s finish the week with Franck’s Grande Pièce Symphonique, which can be described as a symphony for solo organ. When this piece was completed in 1863, Franck had just been appointed organist at Paris’ Sainte-Clothilde basilica, where he played a brand new instrument by the master French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Grande Pièce Symphonique is …

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Franck’s Symphony in D Minor: Music of a Solitary Dreamer

Franck went through this life as a dreamer, seeing little or nothing of that which passed about him, thinking only of his art and living only for it. True artists are subject to this kind of hypnotism – the inveterate workers, who find the recompense of their labors in the accomplished fact, and incomparable joy in the pure and simple toil of each day. This is how music critic Philip Hale described …

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Widor’s Toccata

Let’s finish the week with the awesome power of one of the world’s largest pipe organs…the five keyboards, 109 stops, and nearly 8,000 pipes of the grand organ at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Olivier Latry is performing the virtuosic Toccata from Charles-Marie Widor’s organ Symphony No. 5 in F minor, written in 1879. Born into a family of organ builders in Lyon, Widor became assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at L’église de la Madeleine in Paris at the …

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New Release: Frédéric Bednarz Plays Franck, Lekeu, Boulanger

Canadian violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka have released an exciting new recording of French violin music. The centerpiece of the recording is César Franck’s famous Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano. This is a beautifully colorful and passionate performance with a seamless and cohesive sense of ensemble between violin and piano. The seldom heard music of Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894) opens the CD. Lekeu’s G major Violin Sonata was commissioned by …

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The Elegant Artistry of Arthur Grumiaux

Elegance, good taste and a beautiful, bell-like singing tone were all characteristics of Franco-Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux (1921-1986). In contrast to today’s relatively homogenized violin playing, Grumiaux exhibits a distinctly French style. Listening to Grumiaux, I’m also struck by the musical honesty and lack of fussiness in his playing. His musical phrases speak with a purity and simplicity which is hard to come by today. In his book, Great Masters of the …

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