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Nineteenth-century composer César Franck spent most of his career teaching at the Conservatoire de Paris and serving as organist at Sainte-Clotilde. Only late in life did he achieve fame through a handful of important chamber and orchestral compositions, several of which continued to be performed regularly during the first half of the 20th century. Franck's reputation has suffered, however, since the 1960s. Stove (a performing organist based in Melbourne, Australia) has produced a fresh, eminently readable biography of the composer, the first in English to be based on extensive familiarity with (and translation of) the composer's letters and other primary sources. With the goal of inspiring "better comprehension of Franck himself," the author focuses on Franck's life and the critical reception of his music while the composer was alive and in the century since his death. The result is a fine (and often entertaining) introduction to the man, his compositions, and the political, social, and cultural contexts that shaped both Franck and his music....Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)
R.J. Stove’s intensively researched biography of Belgian French composer César Franck (1822-1890) has striking merits. Stove writes exquisitely, in periodic sentences, and manages to make detailed discussions of musicology an aesthetic experience for experts and neophytes alike. He also blends his musical discussions with well-told anecdotes, the most appealing of which is his recounting of Franck’s passion for a young beauty with an Irish father, Augusta Mary Anne Holmès. (The American Conservative)
Stove notes a resuscitation of interest in Franck starting in 1990, the 100th anniversary of the composer's death, with a flurry on concert performances and new recordings of long neglected works. Never before has his music been so readily available in commercial recordings. (American Record Guide)
This book is not quite for the ordinary reader, but having said that, it would be a huge compliment to give someone a copy of it. It would be a way of saying, “You have sufficient general education and interest in music to make this of more than passing interest to your good self. (Quadrant)
Stove has done an admirable job in evoking Franck and his world, as well as giving us a fairly balanced appreciated of his life’s work…. Interesting connections made between people and compositions, as well as the author’s own insights, attest to the depth of Stove’s research. (Limelight Magazine)
This book will not be the last word on Franck, but Stove presents us with a readable portrait which will certainly appeal to those for whom Franck is still a bit of a mystery. (Salisbury Review)
What makes Stove’s biography especially interesting is not just the author’s own musical expertise, which enables him to go way beyond a standard biographer in analysing Franck’s work, but the way he weaves in the historical background… Cesar Franck: His Life and Times reminds us that artistic geniuses don’t have to be tortured souls with problematic personalities. (Spectator Australia)
Stove has chosen to eschew scholarly detachment in treating his subject’s life, and the reward in engagement and sheer wit is considerable, while the extensive annotations reveal just how carefully and thoroughly the author has done his research. (Organ Australia)
It is the first study of the composer in English for some time, and even an audience already familiar with the subject will welcome its extensive quotation from contemporary sources. (Choir & Organ)
Stove has delivered scrupulous scholarship, correcting errors of earlier writers and providing a full scholarly scaffolding of bibliography and endnotes. (classical.net)
“This is an admirably thorough and detailed exploration not only of Franck himself, but also of his historical environment and varied connections, done with obvious sympathy and admiration but without failing to present all sides in the critical spectrum” “We get a wide range of opinion about the man and his music and a feeling that the author knows intimately the music he describes care and detail. And we have confidence that he has gone the extra mile to correct little discrepancies and inaccuracies that have been perpetuated in Franck scholarship to date” “It is fascinating reading, and the author has no hesitation in pursuing amusing side stories or interesting political historical settings. Don’t miss the notes which are often very funny” “The book is full of engaging and charming turns of phrase and wry observations.” This is a very rich book, full of surprises and interest and written in a very appealing and lively way. It should reignite interest in works other than the few standard ones and round out our ideas of Franck’s legacy. I strongly recommend it.” (Annals Australasia)
Overall I found this a diverting read and appreciated a writer whose turn of phrase and command of English prose never fail to delight, itself an all-too-rare event these days. (Organz News)
About the Author
R. J. Stove is an organist who has publicly performed several of César Franck’s pieces. He is also the author of articles on a variety of musical topics, which have seen publication in Modern Age, The University Bookman, The New Criterion, Organ Australia, Britain’s Musical Times, and other periodicals. His books include A Student’s Guide to Music History (2007), The Unsleeping Eye (2003), and Prince of Music (1990).
I have been an ardent fan of classical music for almost 70 years now. For all of it, I have been so completely absorbed with the handful of composers and selected compositions that I grew up with, I never bothered to expand to others. I have no intention of abandoning those composers now, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Bach, Wagner and Verdi being among them. But after reading Robert Stove's book on Franck, for what may be the first time I have been forced to regret not having been exposed to his music, beyond his symphony, which I have always loved. Stove's book has, in fact, made me wonder just how much I have missed of the larger field of classical music. Beyond that, I must say that there was much of the human emotion and drama that should hold the interest of any reader, even those who, like myself, have very limited knowledge of the fundamentals of music. I am a listener only, but despite the technical material in the book, I could hardly go a page without alighting on something that held my interest. Some of those interesting morsels involved the purely human, but others, the vicissitudes of the composer, including adverse reviews or opinions. I do enjoy music history, and the book is worth reading for that aspect alone. And finally, I also enjoy good writing, and this book is very well written indeed. There are, in fact, many reasons why almost anyone would find much to enjoy between the covers of this fine work.
What begins as a refreshing and detailed biography of this neglected 19th-century genius ends as a numbing series of bitchy, personal put-downs of other critics, musicians and historians, and pompous generalities in lieu of any basic, serious musical analysis. It's as if the author, seemingly unaided by an editor, either got bored or began to run out of time by the last third of the book. The volume is still worth purchasing however, for the many fascinating biographical details and anecdotes previously unavailable to readers in English -- the vignette of Franck innocently posing for the legendary portrait of him that graces the cover; the recollection of the composer Pierre de Breville having his weekly 6am composition lesson in Franck's apartment, sitting there, bleary-eyed, doing his counterpoint exercises whilst the master observes his work fully alert, and sipping his café au lait......such inner glimpses into Franck's daily life are worth the occasional comments, asides, and personal, conversational remarks that have no place in a work of scholarship.
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