Personalities | Charles Gounod | Late Romantic | Classical
(Sharl Goo-no) 1818–93
Gounod is best known as the composer of one of the most popular French lyric operas, Faust. His teachers at the Paris Conservatoire were the opera composers Jacques-François-Fromental Halévy (1799–1862) and Jean François Le Sueur (1760–1837) and in 1839 he won the coveted Prix de Rome. Alongside much sacred music, such as the florid Messe solonnelle de Sainte Cecile (1855), Gounod’s outstanding gift for word-setting was shown in his lyric operas, a genre midway between grand and comic opera. Early successes include Sapho (1851) and Le médecin malgré lui (‘Doctor in Spite of Himself’, 1858), but it was Faust (1859) that established his enduring fame. Based on Goethe’s play, the plot centres on the character of Marguerite, for whom Gounod composed his finest melodies, such as the ‘Ballad of the King of Thule’. Faust enjoyed great popularity in England, where Gounod stayed in 1870–74, composing the oratorio The Redemption (1868–81) for the English public. After Faust, his most important operas were Roméo et Juliette (1867), with its famous love music, and Mireille with its Provençal setting; his songs influenced the younger French composers including Fauré. Among his other popular works is the charming Petite Symphonie for wind (1888).
Faust, soloists, Capitole Chorus & Orchestra, Toulouse (cond) Michel Plasson (EMI/Erato)
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