Charles Gounod: Overview
- Born: 1818 - Paris, France
- Died: 1893 - Saint Cloud, France
- Historical Period: Romantic
- Musical Media: orchestra, chamber music, keyboard, opera, songs, choral
Charles-François Gounod or simply Charles Gounod, as he is better known was born in the year 1818 in France. He is particularly noted for his excellently composed operas, the most famous of which is Faust. Hailing from a family with artistic roots, with his father being a classy and talented painter, young Gounod grew up in the midst of creative appreciation. Gounod’s mother was also a musician of extraordinary talent, having herself learned under Louis Adam. She was the one who imparted knowledge of basic music to Gounod after his father died. After an interesting career of producing various musical pieces, Gounod passed away in 1893.
Dive deeper into Charles Gounod's life and works: Exemplary Brilliance of the 19th Century
Apart from Faust, Gounod is also well-known for Romeo et Juliette (1867) and Ave Maria (1859). Barring concertos, his reach extended to every major genre of music, albeit with different levels of success. His strength lay primarily in operatic compositions and though his renown started diminishing at the twilight of his career, he was and is still considered as one of the stalwarts of the 19th-century musical scene.
Having received his education at Lycée Saint-Louis, with a degree in philosophy, he moved on to music under Anton Reicha. The next step in his life was the Paris Conservatoire, where he proceeded under famous composers such as Jean-François Lesueur and Fromental Halévy. Going forward Gounod won the Prix de Rome for music for Fernand (1839), a cantata. This assured a three-year stay for him at the Villa Medici in Rome.
The journey from Rome continued into Vienna which culminated in a mass and requiem, staged in the years 1842 and 1843. On the way back to France, Gounod passed through Leipzig, where he met Felix Mendelssohn, the German composer and became aquatinted with him.
Gounod’s exceptional talents and gradual fame led to him becoming the choirmaster at the Church of the Missions Étrangères in Paris. Studying theology, he entered the Saint-Sulpice seminary in 1846 but left the year after.
In the year 1852, Gounod was appointed as the conductor of Orphéon Choral Society in Paris, writing numerous choral works for them. Gounod also began working on Faust (1859), whose libretto was written by J. Barbier and M. Carré. They based this on a tragedy written by J.W. von Goethe and the effect of this piece has continued to surpass all of the composer’s subsequent works, such as La Colombe (1860), Philémon et Baucis (1860) and Mireille (1864).
Charles Gounod married Anna, the daughter of Joseph Zimmerman who was a composer at the Conservatoire. Gounod then became the director of the Paris Brass band, and later in 1853, he became attached to the Paris municipal schools as the director of singing education. Ave Maria (1853), is one of his most popular and artistic creations which saw tremendous success. This was a melodic superimposition on a moderately modified Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846, from J. S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.
Gounod’s earliest written operas were Sapho (1851) and La Nonne sanglante (1854). These received lukewarm commercial success, although critics such as Hector Berlioz praised them highly. His work, Messe de Sainte-Cécile (1855), was an attempt to amalgamate sacred and secular types of composition. This was followed by a humorous operatic piece, Le Médecin malgré lui (1858), and was directly drawn from Molière’s comedy of the same name.
Gounod also wrote and dedicated a national anthem to Napoleon III, the Vive l'Empereur (1855), which was performed by 1500 voices at the Universal Exposition. Gallia (1871), was written with the solo soprano and chorus in mind and was a sad lamentation of the military defeat of the French in 1870. This was a precursor to La Rédemption (1882) and Mors et Vita (1885). The further honor was bestowed upon the composer in 1888 when he was made the grand officer of the Legion of Honour.
Gounod’s style was entirely conservative and it affected the styles of a generation of composers such as Saint-Saëns, and Bizet. Though he didn’t establish any school or made any similar contributions to music, Gounod’s pieces were characteristically melodious with an extremely creative vocal writing talent. His work is still amply relevant today to be researched and performed widely.
For the period of 1870-1875, Gounod resided in England due to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War. Despite composing quite a few pieces, such as Petite Symphonie (1885) during this time, up until his death, he wasn’t able to replicate the success of his youthful years. Nevertheless, he was still able to produce a plethora of fine compositions by which he also managed to inspire others and leave a mark on the artistic front.
- About Charles Gounod on Britannica
- About Charles Gounod on charles-gounod.com
- About Charles Gounod on All Music
Piano sheet music of compositions by Charles Gounod available at Galaxy Music Notes:
To find piano solo sheet music for classical music at multi-levels, please visit our collection page, "Classical."