From organ to piano

César Franck (1822-1890) is probably best known for two of his late works, the symphony in D minor and the sonata in A for violin and piano, but he was an accomplished organist and wrote extensively for that instrument.

Love his music; the facial hair, not so much

Today’s ‘musical moment’ is from a piece–Prelude, Fugue and Variation–that Franck originally wrote for organ; it was later transcribed for piano solo by Harold Bauer, a renowned pianist in the early to mid-20th century.

I hadn’t been familiar with this work when my piano teacher pointed me in its direction last year.  Her son had used it to score a short film he’d made, and she had a feeling I would like it; she was right.

For whatever the reason, I’m drawn to passages of music that convey a sense of longing, of hope for resolution…and that’s what I hear in the Prelude movement.  Starting at 1:49 in this recording by Jean Dubé, we hear three questioning chord progressions; they seem to be answered satisfactorily (1:52-1:55), but are followed by three more questions, delivered now with a bit more urgency (1:56-1:59); these, too, are answered (2:00-2:02), to be met with nine final questions (or, perhaps, one question posed nine times) (2:03-2:13).  The answer, as I hear it (2:14-2:32), is immensely poignant and bittersweet.  The movement comes to an end, and something has been lost.

See what you hear.  And feel.

Franck was the organist at this church, the Basilica of Saint Clotilde, in Paris, for 32 years.
Franck was the organist at this church, the Basilica of Saint Clotilde, in Paris, for 32 years.

Trivia tidbit: My childhood piano teacher was a student of Harold Bauer. When I learned that Bauer had been a pianist of note, I traced my ‘teaching lineage’ back even further: Bauer studied with Ignacy Paderewski who studied with Theodor Leschetizky who studied with Carl Czerny who studied with some guy named Beethoven.

For those who make it this far in the post, here’s another version of the Prelude (not the finest quality or sound balance) played by this writer, at a slower tempo and with a couple of minor clinkers, at a small competition in Rhode Island last spring.

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