Friday, November 02, 2012

Frightful Music Gentlemen

In the book I was telling you about, Thomas Adès has some interesting things to say about Franck, a composer to whom I have never given a second thought, or a first thought. Adès calls Franck's only symphony "a very pregnant piece. It's wildly unfashionable now." Naturally I turned to the reliably stilted yet poignant schadenfreude of those kooky old volumes: MILTON CROSS' ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE GREAT COMPOSERS AND THEIR MUSIC. I was not disappointed! "Midway in his rehearsal [the conductor, Colonne] stopped the orchestra and turned to the composer to ask, 'Does it please you?' Franck replied that he was very pleased indeed. Colonne then turned back to the orchestra men and added, 'It's all frightful music, gentlemen, but we'll go on anyway.'" And: "Most of those who knew him regarded him as a quaint man who always wore an overcoat too large for him, over trousers that were invariably too short." The encyclopedia tells of how Franck worked on a piece for ten years then invited all the greatest members of the musical establishment of Paris to hear him play it and only two people showed up. "His first major public success as a composer did not come until he was sixty-eight years old (the last year of his life)." On the other hand, Debussy is quoted on the subject of Franck's soul, which he proclaimed "so good that neither contradictory circumstances nor the wickedness of others could ever make him feel bitter."