Do you sometimes feel underappreciated at work or in the home? Perhaps the boss or children don’t notice because you don’t make a big deal of things – like you do many things that allow for a smooth running, but hardly get the credit because nothing goes wrong and people don’t notice? You may want to consider the case of the composer Cesar Franck, a classical Mr Unknown.
There are many classical music pieces that will be considered iconic for their genre. Think “piano” and one of the names that will come up is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fur Elise. Think “orchestra”, and perhaps the net widens to include the same composer’s Ode to Joy, although it is decidedly harder to narrow the list. Think “vocal”, and one of the pieces you might get is the Belgian composer Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus.
The popularity of this piece may be partly down to its frequent appearance in talent shows. Its popularity perhaps even outstrips the composer’s himself. Franck was born in the town of Liège in 1822, was his country’s most significant composer of the Romantic period.
Unlike some musical households, where the father preferred his children not to follow a career in music, Franck came from a very ambitious family and his father believed him to be destined for a career as a concert pianist. However, despite the considerable pressure that was placed on the young boy’s shoulders, he never quite achieved the heights that his father envisioned. And so when Franck first applied to study at the Paris Conservatoire, he had to do so not as a performer but instead as a composer.
Yet one might say that there was a certain level of irony in the fact that after graduating, Franck made his living as a teacher and organist in Paris, before eventually becoming Organ Professor at the very same conservatoire he had been overlooked as a performer at.
Being overlooked was perhaps a recurring theme – in nineteeth century Paris, opera was in favour at the moment. Composers of instrumental and choral music were less in the headlights, and Franck wasn’t seen as being particularly relevant by the masses.
Despite being known (or overlooked!) as the composer of Panis Angelicus, in recent times, a number of other works by Franck have attained popularity, such as the Symphony in D minor, Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra, and a Violin Sonata. (Panis Angelicus, by the way, is not a standalone piece – it is incorporated within a mass setting from 1861.) Franck may have remained anonymous within the general public despite the popularity of his piece. The same goes for the composer Joaquin Rodrigo, who was pretty much unknown bar his Concierto Aranjuez (you can find out more about Rodrigo from the N4 piano teacher website). Their works have endured for decades and centuries, but not many know who they are!