César Franck (1822-1890) was born Liège, Belgium December 10, 1822 and became a French citizen in 1873 where he made his home until he died November 8, 1890. At the age of 11, he made a piano concert tour of Belgium. He studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. He sought to incorporate the
achievements of Romanticism in an essentially Classical framework, with a harmonic idiom influenced to some extent by the chromaticism of Liszt and Wagner. He practiticed the modern cyclical form where themes recur in modified form throughout a work.
He was the founder of a new school of organ in France , and indeed the fountainhead of the whole movement that gave renewed vitality to
French musical education and composition beginning with the estblishment of the Société nationale de musique Française (national Society for French Music) in 1871.
Franck was the founder of modern French chamber music. He wrote the well-known Violin Sonata in A Major in 1889. It employs cyclical themes - that is, themes that recur identically or are transformed in
two or more different movements.
Underlying all his work was a warm religious idealism and a belief in the serious social mission of the artist.
His music evidences a certain anti-Romantic logic in the working out of ideas and a pointed avoidance of Romantic extremes of expression, together with some midly chromatic innovations in harmony and a systematic application of the cyclical principle.
The above is from my University music history notes. With that said...... I am interested in presenting the Franck Violin Sonata in A Major on this page.
The Violin Sonata in A major was done in the last decade of his life. It is the only violin sonata work he wrote. It was written for Eugéne Ysaÿe and was given to him as a wedding gift in 1886.
It is a good example of Franck using the cyclic form. This means there is a theme that runs from one movement to another - both the return of music from previous movements and the rewording of early themes into new contexts.
The four movements share themes
César Franck Violin Sonata in A major
I. Allegretto Ben Moderato - introduced themes
II. Allegro - passionate themes
III. Recitativo Fantasia - improvisatory themes
IV. Allegretto Poco Mosso - soaring themes
Franck comments by Francisco Sard
I recommend the Henle Verlag edition for the César Franck Sonata. Partly because it is an urtext and partly because of its preface.
The first edition was published by J.Hamelle in Paris in 1886, the year in
which it was composed. The sonata is dedicated to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaye. The
interesting part for me is that, as the preface says: " the autograph and the first edition both reveal a
system of phrasing by which identical motifs are varied in accordance with dynamic changes by
applying different phrasing...." Franck uses different phrasing for identical motifs. The editor specifically points out how legato
slurs are applied on piano passages and then omitted in forte ones.
An example of this can be seen in bars 14-22 of the 2º movement and its correspondent bars 34 and so on. I always have seen
how violinists add slurs in bar 34 (and the one's that follow, probably thinking that Franck just
wrote the slurs once and meant that they had to be applied to the next time that the same phrase
appears...just like a baroque composer. Even Sir Yehudi Menuhin, who takes care of the fingerings in
the Henle Verlag edition, writes slurs in the phrase when it is forte. Of course, Menuhin is extremely
cautious and uses brackets because "the composer may well have a purpose of which we may stil
be unaware". I think it would be interesting to look at some of Ysaye's fingerings. They are full of
portamentos. Before trying to make one's own interpretation of the piece it would be useful to do a deep
harmonic analysis. Very often the melodic view distorts the harmonic path. This is true for all music
but specially for this piece.
When I talk about Ysaye's fingerings I mean in general, his way of fingering, that was the
style of those days. I have not seen any Ysaye's fingering for Franck's sonata. I find that nowadays
many violinists play without portamentos, as if the violin would be a clarinet. Nowadays everybody
pays attention to baroque authentic style...what about romantic authentic style? The portamento
was a more powerful means of expression than the vibrato.
Editions available, I am using the SHAR catalog to help you find these:
G. Schirmer 1159-110 = I presently have this one
International 1159-111 = I have used this one, it is easy to read
G. Henle Verlang 1159-114 = expensive, but I love the Henle editions, I have ordered this one
United Music 1159-117
Durand and Cie 1159-217