Franck (1822-90) - Symphony in D minor
Belgian by birth, took to music very early in life, and soon acquired a
reputation as a virtuoso organist. He laboured long and hard over his only
symphony (1886-8), in spite of being forearmed with the accumulated wisdom
of no less than 63 years' experience of life and music.
significant respects, it is an extraordinary work. For instance, its three
movement layout harks back to the pre-classical sinfonia, while its cyclical
use of very short themes and the intriguing variation of sonata form in
the first movement are very much in the avant-garde of the day.
the main cause of the disdain, even contempt, from the professional “priesthood”
is the highly unusual orchestration. Franck, dull-witted composer of mere
organ works, could manage no better than to use the orchestra to imitate
the organ (for example, “turgid/turbid* brass/bass*”). Shame on him; he
should not dabble in things he does not understand. Except, these what
we might politely call mealy-mouthed misery-gutses seem to have overlooked
important points: firstly that it ain't necessarily easy to make an orchestra
sound like an organ, secondly it ain't necessarily a Bad Thing, and thirdly
none of Franck's other orchestral works sounds like this. Franck made a
deliberate and wilful choice of sonority that beautifully complements the
sinuous slitherings of the chromatically lubricated themes, just coincidentally
sounding a bit like an organ! D'Indy related that, arriving home after
the somewhat fraught première, the composer merely smiled and said,
“Oh, it sounded well - just as I thought it would.”
movement is marked lento, but ranges well beyond that as its
unusual structure unfolds. The exposition, comprising two complex subjects,
is repeated in full, and then Franck springs a third subject, the so-called
“swinging theme”, on us! Following an unusually extended and imaginative
development, Franck prevents the recapitulation making the movement over-long
by the simple but radical expedient of leaving it out!
movement (allegretto) elegantly combines elements of slow movement
and scherzo, while the finale‚ (allegro non troppo) furnishes
an embarrassment of melodic riches. For me, the only real misjudgement
in this entire symphony is the finale's bludgeoning reprise of the middle
movement's lovely theme, but even that makes a lovely noise. The denouement
is as stunning as it is brief - fired off like a rocket into the November
a wonderfully original work, teeming with invention, excitement, and interest.
The much frowned-on orchestration in fact turns out to be one of the main
attractions - a unique sound quality, exuding a darkly burnished glow,
deep and rich like french-polished mahagony. It is something of a minor
miracle that, in spite of the early and continuing hostility of many musical
professionals (which might have buried it for good), ordinary music lovers
the world over have taken this symphony to their hearts, and won it a proud
place in the repertoire.
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
for use apply. Details here
Copyright in these notes is retained by the author without whose prior written permission they may not be used, reproduced, or kept in any form of data storage system. Permission for use will generally be granted on application, free of charge subject to the conditions that (a) the author is duly credited, and (b) a donation is made to a charity of the author's choice.