Charles Gounod

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Portrait of Charles Gounod, by Imanuel Heinrich Lengerich
Charles François Gounod

Charles François Gounod (born June 17, 1818 in Paris , † October 18, 1893 in Saint-Cloud ) was a French composer . One of his best-known works is the opera Faust , which is sometimes performed in Germany under the title Margarethe .


Gounod, son of the painter François-Louis Gounod (1758–1823) and the pianist Victoire, née Lemachois, received music lessons from his mother at an early age. After attending the Lycée Saint-Louis in Paris until 1835, he studied privately with Anton Reicha , a Bohemian composer, and from 1836 at the Paris Conservatory with Jacques Fromental Halévy , Jean-François Lesueur and Ferdinando Paër . In 1839 he received the Prix ​​de Rome for his cantata Fernand and traveled to Italy to get to know the music of the old masters, especially Palestrina . In 1842 he left Rome for Vienna and came back to Paris in 1843 via Berlin and Leipzig, where he met Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and his sister Fanny Hensel .

Upon his return, Gounod became church conductor, choirmaster and organist in the Church of the Étrangéres Mission in Paris. His wish at the time was actually to become a priest, so he studied theology at Saint-Sulpice from 1846 to 1848 . A requiem that he had started to write that year remained unfinished because he had meanwhile decided against the order. Another reason he did not take the vow was because he felt more drawn to music. After 1848 he turned more to opera composition. With the support of the singer Pauline Viardot , he obtained the libretto of the opera Sappho from Emile Augier , the performance of which, however, was not a success in Paris or in Covent Garden in London in 1851 . In 1852 he married Anna Zimmermann (1829–1907), the daughter of a piano teacher at the conservatory. From 1852 to 1860 Gounod was director of the Orphéon de la Ville de Paris, the largest male choir in the city. In 1854 he finished the opera La nunne sanglante , but even with that he was unsuccessful. In 1858 he composed Le Medicin malgré lui based on the comedy of the same name by Molière, also without great success. It was his opera Faust in 1859 that brought him his breakthrough as a respected composer and is still considered his masterpiece today. The premiere took place on March 19, 1859 in the Théatre Lyrique in Paris. (In Germany, this opera is often played under the title Margarethe to emphasize the difference to Goethe's Faust .) Gounod became one of the most respected representatives of the typically French Opéra lyrique , although most of his twelve operas are no longer on the program today. A year later, his opera Philémon et Baucis was premiered; a year later he brought out La Colombe . From Grand Duke Ludwig III. In 1861 he received the “Golden Medal of Merit for Science, Art, Industry and Agriculture” from Hessen for his outstanding work. This spurred him on not to let the chain of success fail. In 1862 he completed the opera La Reine de Saba and in 1864 his quite successful work Mireille was premiered. He then concluded this creative period with the opera Roméo et Juliette (premiered on April 27, 1867 at the Théatre Lyrique in Paris).

Due to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, he lived in London from 1870 to 1874, where he founded the Gounod's Choir , which later became the Royal Choral Society . Numerous oratorios and choral works are an expression of his work as a choir director and composer. In old age, the deeply religious Gounod again turned to church music. His oratorios made him a rich man, but their lyrical style, which bordered on the sentimental, quickly let them be forgotten again. His Méditation sur le 1er prelude de Bach is well known , a melody that he wrote for violin and piano in 1852 for the prelude in C major of the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach and in 1859 with the text of the Ave Maria . This Ave Maria von Bach / Gounod is one of the most popular pieces of classical music around the world.

With the later operas Cinq Mars (1877), Polyeucte (1878) and Le tribut de Zamora (1881) he did not manage to build on the successful years before the Franco-German war.

Charles-François Gounod died in Saint-Cloud near Paris in 1893 while he was working on a requiem.


Memory of Charles Gounod in the Deutsche Oper underground station in Berlin

For his musical work, Gounod received from Grand Duke Ludwig III. von Hessen on February 25, 1861 awarded the Golden Medal of Merit for Science, Art, Industry and Agriculture. Gounod had previously traveled from Paris to Darmstadt to attend the performance of his opera Faust in the Darmstadt Court Theater on the evening of February 17, 1861 . In recognition of his musical work, he was appointed Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1888.

Works (selection)


Incidental music

  • Ulysse (1852)
  • Le bourgeois gentilhomme (The citizen as nobleman) (1852)
  • Les deux reines (1872)
  • Joan of Arc (1873)
  • Drames sacrés (1893)

Oratorios and cantatas

  • Tobie . Little Oratorio (1854)
  • Le temple de l'harmonie . Cantata (1862)
  • A la frontière . Cantata (1870)
  • Gallia: lamentation . Motet (1871)
  • Jésus sur le lac de Tibériade . Scène biblique (1874)
  • La rédemption . Spiritual Trilogy ( Birmingham Triennial Music Festival , 1882)
  • Mors et vita . Spiritual Trilogy (1885, Birmingham Triennial Music Festival)

measure up

  • Mass brève in C major (1845) (Mass no.5 aux séminaires / no.7 aux chapelles)
  • Mass brève et salut in C minor op.1 (1846)
  • Mass in C minor (Mass No. 1 aux Orphéonistes) (1853)
  • Mass solennelle de Ste-Cécile in G major (Cecilia Mass ) (1855)
  • Mass brève no. 6 aux cathédrales (Mass no. 2 "Aux sociétés chorales" in G major, 1862)
  • Mass brève pour les morts in F major (Requiem) (1872–1873)
  • Missa angeli custodes in C major (1873)
  • Mass de Sacré-Coeur de Jésus in C major (1877)
  • Mass solennelle No. 3 de Pâques in E flat major (1883)
  • Mass à la mémoire de Jeanne d'Arc in F major (1887)
  • Mass solennelle No. 4 sur l'intonation de la liturgie catholique in G minor (1888)
  • Messe de St-Jean, d'après le chant grégorien (1888)
  • Mass dite de Clovis, d'après de chant grégorien in C major (1891)
  • Requiem in C major (1891)

Orchestral works

  • Symphony No. 1 in D major (1855)
  • Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1855)
  • Funeral March for a Marionette in D minor (1873)
  • Wedding March No. 2 in A major (1882)
  • Fantaisie sur l'hymne national russe (1885)
  • Le rendez-vous . Suite de valse in D major (1847?)
  • Symphony No. 3 in C major (fragment)

Chamber music

  • Wedding March No. 1 in C major for 3 trombones and organ (1882)
  • Petite symphony for winds (1885)
  • String Quartet No. 3 in A minor (1890)

Other works

Numerous other choral works, piano songs, piano and other instrumental pieces.

Gounod also composed today's hymn of the Vatican, see Inno e Marcia Pontificale .

The theme tune of the American television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents , which quotes the main theme from Gounod's Marche funèbre d'une marionnette “Funeral march of a puppet”, is also known to a wide audience .

Web links

Commons : Charles Gounod  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. There is an exchange of letters between the Grand-Ducal Hessian Prime Minister Reinhard von Dalwigk and the Grand Duke about the award , cf. Hessisches Staatsarchiv Darmstadt , Best. O 22 No. 17, fol. 293.