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Gounod, Charles
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Biography
Gounod, Charles (François)

(Born; Paris, 17 June 1818; Died; St Cloud, 18 Oct 1893). French composer. He studied privately with Reicha and at the Paris Conservatoire with Halévy (counterpoint) and Le Sueur (composition), winning the Prix de Rome in 1839. At Rome (1840-42) he was deeply impressed by the 16th-century polyphonic music (particularly Palestrina's) he heard in the Sistine Chapel and wrote some rather austere masses; for a time a church organist in Paris, he considered joining the priesthood. The climax of his liturgical work came in 1855 with the florid Messe solennelle de Ste Cécile, a favourite setting scarcely superseded by his 12 later ones (1870-92). Meanwhile he wrote a Gluckian, then a Meyerbeerian opera, both failures; the succeeding five, all first performed at the Théâtre-Lyrique, are the works by which he is remembered, namely the small-scale Le médecin malgré lui (1858) and Philémon et Baucis (1860), the triumphant Faust (1859), in which sensitive musical characterization and a refreshing naturalness set new standards on the French operatic stage, and the major successes Mireille (1864) and Roméo et Juliette (1867).In 1870 Gounod took refuge in England from the Franco-Prussian War, staying some four years to exploit the English demand for choral music. The first conductor of the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society (1871), he produced dozens of choruses and songs. But he experienced considerable intrigue in his private life, effectively marking the end of his fruitfulness as a composer. His oratorios for Birmingham, La rédemption and Mors et vita, if banal and facilely emotional, were nonetheless successful. Gounod's influence on the next generation of French composers, including Bizet, Fauré and especially Massenet, was enormous. Tchaikovsky and later Poulenc, Auric and Ravel admired his clean workmanship, delicate sentiment, gift for orchestral colour and, in his best songs, unpretentious lyrical charm.Dramatic musicLe médecin malgré lui (1858); Faust (1859); Philémon et Baucis (1860); Mireille (1864); Roméo et Juliette (1867); Polyeucte (1878); 6 other operas; incidental music to Jeanne d'Arc (1873) and 4 other playsVocal musicMesse solennelle de Ste Cécile (1855); 16 other masses; 4 oratorios, incl. La rédemption (1882), Mors et vita (?1885); sacred pieces; partsongs, solo songs, duetsInstrumental music2 syms.; Petite symphonie, wind (1885); Str Qt chamber and orch pieces; pf, org music(c)Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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