top of page

Les Béatitudes -The César Franck Opera

When one considers César Franck's works, The Beatitudes close a period, indeed they mark a break. Naturally, there is all that was written before and after this magnificent vocal and symphonic fresco, which was composed over a period of more than ten years (1869 -1879) and seems to tower up like a mountain and form a dividing line in the musician's production.

Before 1869, Franck remains, in spite of his efforts to become famous, an unheard of composer. Neither the numerous concerts that his father organized during his twentieth year, nor the trios that Franck composed (variations on popular opera airs) succeeded in making the required breakthrough... He was married in 1848 and, under the influence of his wife and family-in-law, tried to make a name for himself on stage. During these years he was obliged to give private piano lessons for 4 francs an hour. The organs of Saint Jean - Saint François of the Marais in 1853 and that of Sainte Clotilde in 1859 were all that gave him pleasure during this dim period. Nothing of any great value came from this fairly productive period apart from two oratorios: Ruth, that Liszt remarqued in 1845 and the tower of Babel twenty years later, and also the Masses, several melodies and motets which became famous later on thanks to the famous Panis Angelicus... In fact, one essentially remembers him as an organist, an occupation which moreover influenced his six works of art: Opus 16 to 21 in the 1860 collection...

The defeat at. Sedan was a gong that woke France up from the long slumber of the Second Empire. The artists took hold of themselves and the famous “Société Nationale de Musique” (the “S.N.M.”) was born with the proud and patriotic motto: “Ars Gallica” and was designed to promote, encourage and play French music. Franck was one of the founder members with Bussine, Castillon, Duparc and Saint-Saëns. Such varied composers as D'Indy, Chausson, Chabrier, Bréville and many others soon joined them...

Now that, he is able to play his own compositions surrounded by a group of his young pupils from the Conservatoire (Franck's band), where he was appointed in 1872, Franck finds new strength and harbours many audacious projects. His art becomes more diverse, more intense. In this period or ripening talent, The Beatitudes appear, even then, as the prelude to the great works that are born almost every year after 1879. He works during the school holidays, the only free moments he can obtain away from his teaching. The admirable Quintette of 1878, preceded by the Redemption (1875) and Eolides (1876 - 1877) was soon followed by a group of chefs d'oeuvre that range from Rebecca (1881) to the last three Chorals for the organ in 1890, and include works such as: Le Chasseur maudit (1882), Les Djinns or Prelude, Choral and Fugue (1884 -1885) the grandiose Variations Symphoniques of 1885 which were published a few months before the superb Sonata for piano and violin, Psyche., the Symphony in D minor as well as a new triptych for the piano, Prelude, Aria and Finale finally the wonderful String quartet that captures the lyrical and methodical power of the musician.

Franck took ten years to finish The Beatitudes