Born: June 18, 1818 - Paris, France
Died: October 18, 1893 - Saint-Cloud, France
The French composer, Charles-François Gounod, was the son of a pianist mother and a draftsman father. His mother was his first piano teacher. Under her tutelage Gounod first showed his musical talents. He entered the Paris Conservatoire where he studied under Fromental Halévy. He won the Prix de Rome in 1839 for his cantata Ferdinand. He subsequently went to Italy where he studied the music of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. He concentrated on religious music of the 16th century.
Charles Gounod eventually returned to Paris and composed the Messe Sollennelle, also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass. This work was first performed in London during 1851 and began his reputation as a noteworthy composer. He wrote two symphonies in 1855. His Symphony No.1 in D major was the inspiration for Georges Bizet's (who was then Gounod's 17 year old student) Symphony No. 1 in C, composed later that same year. Despite their charm and brilliance, Gounod's symphonies are seldom performed.
Charles Gounod wrote his first opera, Sappho, in 1851, but had no great success until Faust (1859), based on the play by Goethe. This remains his best-known work. The romantic and highly melodious Roméo et Juliette (based on the Shakespeare play), premiered in 1867, is also performed and recorded regularly. The charming and highly individual Mireille of 1864 is admired by connoisseurs. There is some controversy surrounding Faust. Many critics believed it was a far advancement over Gounod's prior works. One critic stated his doubt that Gounod composed it, which prompted Gounod to challenge the critic to a duel. The critic withdrew his statement.
From 1870 to 1875 Charles Gounod lived in England, becoming the first conductor of what is now the Royal Choral Society. Much of Gounod's music from this time is vocal or choral in nature. Later in his life, he wrote much religious music, including a musical setting of Ave Maria based on the first prelude from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach and Hymnus Pontificius the anthem of Vatican. He also devoted himself to chamber music, composing four string quartets.
La nonne sanglante (1854)
Le médecin malgré lui (1858)
Philémon et Baucis (1860)
La colombe (1860)
La reine de Saba (1862)
Roméo et Juliette (1867)
Le tribut de Zamora (1881)
Jésus sur le lac de Tibériade (1878)
La rédemption (1882) (commissioned for, and premiered at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival)
Christus factus est (1883)
Mors et Vita (1884)
Symphony No. 1 in D major (1855)
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major
Symphony No. 3 in B flat major (Little Symphony for Wind Instruments, see: Chamber music)
String Quartet in A minor (Old No.3)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor "Le petit quatuor"
String Quartet No.2 in A Major
String Quartet No.3 in F Major
Petite Symphonie for Winds (Petite Symphonie pour instruments à vent, Symphony No. 3 in B flat major)