Gounod, Charles-François


b Paris, France 1818, d St Cloud nr Paris, 1893. His father having died in 1823, he was first taught music by his mother. He showed an early talent for painting, but at various Paris boarding schools it was music which increasingly claimed him. At the Paris Conservatoire he won the Prix de Rome among other awards and proceeded to further work in Rome, where he met Schumann and Mendelssohn, and where his special interest lay in 16th-c and other traditional church music. He also revelled in art and literature. After a stay in Vienna (almost a pilgrimage), on returning to Paris he became a chapel-master or church organist, remaining for 6 years at the Ch of Foreign Missions; he planned initially towards ordination but eventually resolved to devote his life to music. Yet it required much persistent struggle to cope with many rejections. His Solemn Mass heard in London in 1851 brought him into prominence. Sappho, the first of several operas, soon followed, but the much-acclaimed Faust in 1859 was his first major success. He was a willing follower in the footsteps of Gluck (1714–1787) who once said ‘The French are good enough people, but they make me laugh; they want us to write songs for them, and they can’t sing!’. But CG became ‘the last great composer of the grand opera in France’ (Elizabeth Sharp). The threat posed by the Franco-German war persuaded him to live in London from 1870 to 1875, and although as an exile he shunned personal publicity, his sacred works became especially popular in Britain, notably The Redemption written for the 1882 Birmingham Festival to portray the main themes of the gospel: as the composer put it, ‘the three great facts on which the existence of the Christian Church depends’—the cross, the resurrection and the apostolic mission. His later years were spent in or near Paris. Other well-loved pieces were the song Nazareth and the anthem Send the Light, but his reputation suffered an eclipse for what was perceived as an over-sentimental and sometimes mystical style. In a 20-page article, Grove notes the ‘spiritual dimension…of a complex personality’. As well as the hymn tune which bears his name, the one known as GOUNOD’S BETHLEHEM reflects the fact that he arranged this traditional French carol. No.326.

Tunes and arrangements by Gounod, Charles-François

Tune Name