AROLD C. SCHOENBERG said of César Franck: “He must have been a cocky lad, exultant in his talent.” At the age of fifteen, César—who had been born in Liège (Belgium)—was sent to the Paris Conservatoire. At the finals of the piano competition he was given a difficult piece to read at sight. Young César suddenly elected to transpose the piece selected a third below the key in which it was written (!), which he was able to do without any hesitation or slip. The judges were transfixed. After some discussion, the legendary Luigi Cherubini (d. 1842) announced: “The jury has now decided that Monsieur Franck stands so incomparably far ahead of his fellow competitors that it is impossible to nominate another to share the prize with him. Accordingly, a second first prize will be given to those who would in ordinary circumstances have deserved the senior award.”
DUGUET, Franck’s Teacher • According to the Belgian organist Flor Peeters, Maestro Edgar Tinel (director of the LEMMENSINSTITUUT) confessed to his orchestra quite late in life: “Gentlemen, I, Tinel, was wrong. César Franck is a great composer.” A childhood crush of mine was Franck’s glorious Variations symphoniques. Franck’s first organ teacher was Abbé Dieudonné Duguet (d. 1849), the blind organist of the Church of Saint-Denis. If you search Mr. James Doherty’s fabulous Brébeuf Portal for “DUGUET,” you will find many settings. Below is one for 6 August, the Feast of the Transfiguration. The melody is attributed to Dieudonné Duguet:
Bad Attribution • Below, you can see how the DUGUET melody appears in the “Christ The King Hymnal” published by Father Aloysius Knauff in 1955. It is erroneously called “Gregorian Chant”—but deficient hymnal attributions were pretty common until the 1970s:
Père Lambillotte • Among Franck’s acquaintances at the Jesuit College of the Immaculate Conception (where he taught piano) was the Jesuit priest Louis Lambillotte (d. 1855). Camille Saint-Saëns described Père Lambillotte as a “ridiculous composer” of “dreadful music,” who left an indelible impression on Catholic church music with hymns like On This Day, O Beautiful Mother. Father Lambillotte helped push forward the Gregorian revival, and his tombstone says: Qui cecinit Jesum et Mariam, eripuitque tenebris Gregorium, hunc superis insere, Christe, choris. [“Receive, O Christ, into Thy choirs above him who sang the praises of Jesus and Mary, and rescued the music of Gregory from the darkness of ages.”]
Franck’s Gregorian Accompaniments • In 1851, Père Lambillotte published a facsimile of Saint Gall 359 (an adiastematic “Cantatorium”), and Abbat Prosper Guéranger spoke with him in 1854. When Père Lambillotte died in 1855, César Franck completed for publication their collaboration, a five-part Chant Grégorien: restauré par le R.P. Lambillotte; accompagnement d’orgue par César Franck. The work is Franck’s note-for-note accompaniment of Lambillotte’s modern notation transcriptions of plainsong then being reintroduced into the churches of France. It consisted of five sections. GALLICA has placed online the complete work, which is fascinating:
* PDF Download • GREGORIAN ACCOMPANIMENTS (César Franck)
—156 pages • Gregorian harmonizations to “corrupt” plainsong by César Franck.
You can read an English translation of Franck’s Preface:
Missing Page? • “Ad regias Agni dapes” is supposed to be number 11, according to the index, right after “A solis ortus cardine,” but I can’t find it for some reason. In any event, here’s the harmonization by César Franck of his teacher’s hymn (DUGUET):
Eastertide Hymn • And speaking of “Ad Régias Agni Dapes,” here’s a hymn we like to sing during the season of Easter:
To access this hymn’s media in the Brébeuf Portal, click here.