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César Franck - seven things you (probably) don't know

Cesar Franck

There’s a long list of classical music which falls into the category of you thinking ‘Oh it’s *this* one’ when you hear it, and Franck’s Symphony in D, at least for the writer, falls firmly into this category.

Perhaps because it’s not part of a series of numbered symphonies (it is the only one Cesar Frank wrote) and perhaps because it’s fallen a little out of favour, having been an audience favourite for much of last century.  Hopefully the video excerpt below will jog your memory, and in the meantime here’s a few things you (probably) didn’t know about Franck and his Symphony.

  • Appropriately enough given this performance by the Belgian National Orchestra, Frank was born in what is now Belgium (Liège), though later became a French citizen (in order to get a job).
  • His musical talent was evident at a young age, with him being enrolled in the Liège Conservatoire of Music aged 8, and his father taking him on a concert tour aged just 12.
  • Frank was a hugely talented organist, and considered by many to be the greatest composer of music for the instrument after Bach.
  • He taught at the Paris Conservatoire where some of his pupils included the composers Ernest Chausson,Vincent d’Indy and Henri Duparc.
  • The Symphony in D was a bit ‘marmite’ on its premiere in 1889 – people loved it or hated it, with one critic outraged by the orchestration saying “Who ever heard of a cor anglaisin a symphony?”. Others were unamused by ‘blatant’ use of brass and composer Charles Gounod went further saying it was ‘incompetence pushed to dogmatic lengths’. Say what you really think Charles…
  • The truth was that the symphony was pretty radical for its day, and not everyone liked that. Frank was defiant however, saying “I dared much, but the next time, you will see, I will dare even more…”
  • And audiences and conductors disagreed too, it’s been championed by conducting legends including Herbert von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, and over 70 recordings of it have been made.


Franck’s Symphony in D is played by the Belgian National Orchestra at Sage Gateshead on Saturday 5 November.