Charles Gounod: Wikis


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Charles Gounod.
  • Faust: "O merveille! ... A moi les plaisirs"
    The Act I finale of Gounod's Faust (1859), sung by Enrico Caruso and Marcel Journet in 1910.
    Ave Maria
    Gounod's Ave Maria arranged for piano and cello. Performed by John Michel

    Petite symphonie pour neuf instruments à vent (1885)

    I. Adagio, allegro
    II: Andante cantabile
    III: Scherzo (Allegro moderato)
    IV: Finale (Allegretto)
    Performed by the Soni Ventorum.
  • Problems listening to the files? See media help.

Charles-François Gounod (IPA: [ɡuno]; 17 June[1] 1818 – 18 October[2] 1893) was a French composer, known for his Ave Maria as well as his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette.



Gounod was born in Paris, the son of a pianist mother and an artist 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 and Pierre Zimmermann (he later married Zimmermann's daughter). In 1839, he won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Fernand. He was following his father; François-Louis Gounod (d. 1823) had won the second Prix de Rome in painting in 1783.[3]

Caricature from Punch, 1882.
Charles Gounod in 1859, the year of the premiere of Faust

He went to Italy where he studied the music of Palestrina and other sacred works of the sixteenth century. Around 1846-47 he began studying for the priesthood, but he changed his mind and went back to composition.[4]

In 1854, Gounod completed a "Messe solennelle", also known as the "Saint Cecilia Mass". This work was first performed, in its entirety, for the church of Saint Eustache in Paris on St. Cecilia's Day, November 22nd, 1855 - and from its premiere dates Gounod's fame as a noteworthy composer.

During 1855 Gounod wrote two symphonies. His Symphony No. 1 in D major was the inspiration for the Symphony in C, composed later that year by Georges Bizet, who was then Gounod's 17-year-old student. In the CD era a few recordings of these pieces have emerged: by Michel Plasson conducting the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, and by Sir Neville Marriner with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Gounod wrote his first opera, Sapho, in 1851, with the help of Pauline Viardot, but had no great theatrical success until Faust (1859), based on the play by Goethe. This remains his best-known work, and although it took a while to achieve renown, it became one of the most frequently staged operas of all time. The romantic and melodious Roméo et Juliette (based on the Shakespeare play), premiered in 1867, it has never come close to matching Faust's popularity. Mireille of 1864, has been admired by connoisseurs rather than by the general public.

From 1870 to 1874 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. He became entangled with the amateur English singer Georgina Weldon[5], a relationship (platonic, it seems) which ended in great acrimony.[6] Gounod had lodged with Weldon and her husband in Tavistock House in London.

Fanny Mendelssohn introduced the keyboard music of J. S. Bach to Gounod, who came to revere Bach hugely. For him, The Well-Tempered Clavier was "the law to pianoforte study ... the unquestioned textbook of musical composition".

Later in his life, Gounod returned to his early religious impulses, writing much religious music. His earlier work included an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from The Well-Tempered Clavier, to which in 1859 Gounod set the words of Ave Maria, resulting in his composition Ave Maria, a setting that became world-famous.[7]. He wrote a Pontifical Anthem, now the official national anthem of the Vatican City. He wanted to compose his Messe à la mémoire de Jeanne d'Arc while kneeling on the stone on which Joan of Arc knelt at the coronation of Charles VII of France.[3] A devout Catholic, Gounod had on his piano a music-rack in which was carved an image of the face of Jesus.

He was made a Grand Officer of the Légion d'honneur in July 1888.[3] In 1893, apparently shortly after he had put the finishing touches to a requiem written for his grandson, he died in Saint-Cloud, France.

One of his short pieces, Funeral March of a Marionette, became well known as the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents.




  • Tobie (1854)
  • Gallia (1871)
  • Jésus sur le lac de Tibériade (1873)
  • La rédemption (1882) (commissioned for, and premiered at the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival)
  • Christus factus est (1842)
  • Mors et vita (1884)
  • Requiem (1891)
Charles Gounod's burial site (Auteuil, Paris, France)


  • Symphony No. 1 in D major (1855) (probably begun around 1843)[8]
  • Symphony No. 2 in E flat major (1855)

Chamber music

  • String Quartet in A minor (published as No.3)
  • String Quartet in C minor "Petit quatuor"
  • String Quartet No.2 in A Major
  • String Quartet No.3 in F Major
  • String Quartet in G minor
  • Petite symphonie pour neuf instruments à vent (1885) 'Little Symphony for Winds'



  • Sadie, S. (ed.) (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, [vol. # 7].


  1. ^ Baker's 7th ed.; also Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, online
  2. ^ ibid, James Harding's Gounod (Stein & Day, 1973) gives 17 October as does [1]
  3. ^ a b c Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicioans, 5th ed. 1954
  4. ^ Cooper M. French Music from the death of Berlioz to the death of Fauré. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1951
  5. ^ Weldon G. My Orphanage and Gounod in England. London, 1882.
  6. ^ Huebner S. The Operas of Charles Gounod. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990.
  7. ^ Joan Benson: Bach and the Clavier
  8. ^ Steinberg, Michael (2008). "Program Notes for a Performance of Bizet's Symphony". San Francisco Symphony. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  9. ^ Richard K. Fitzgerald (2006-07-25). "Gounod’s "Roméo et Juliette" at Wolf Trap". 

External links


Sheet music


Simple English

Charles-François Gounod (born Paris 17 June 1818; died Saint-Cloud (France) 17 October 1893)[1] was a French composer. Gounod (pronounce: “Goo – no”) wrote many different kinds of pieces, but he is best known today for his operas Faust and Romeo and Juliet and, especially, for the very popular “Ave Maria” which is a melody that goes with a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach.


Early life

Gounod was born in Paris. His father was a painter and engraver. His mother was his first piano teacher. When his father died in 1823 his mother started a school to teach the piano. Gounod soon showed musical talent and went to study at the Paris Conservatoire. He studied with three teachers, all of whom died soon after Gounod became their pupil. The first time he competed for the Prix de Rome he did not get it, but the third time, in 1839, he was successful. This meant that he could go to Rome to learn more about music.

In Rome he liked the religious music of the 16th century by composers such as Palestrina. He did not much like the modern opera composers such as Donizetti and Bellini. Gounod also spent some of the year in Austria and Germany. He passed through Leipzig where he met Mendelssohn, whose music made a big impression on him.

Gounod returned to Paris where he got a job as director of music at a church. He thought of becoming a priest, but then he changed his mind. He left his job in the church. Some time later he became friends with the singer Pauline Viardot and her husband Louis. He spent some time at their house composing the opera Sapho.

He composed the Messe Sollennelle, also known as the Saint Cecilia Mass. Two fragments of this work were first performed in London during 1851 and it helped him to become famous. By this time he was married. He had a job in charge of several choirs. He started to write a lot of choral music.

He wrote two symphonies in 1855, the 1st Symphony in D major, and the 2nd Symphony in E flat,[2] although they are not often played today.

Middle period

In 1856 he started to write the opera by which he is now best remembered: Faust (1859), based on the first part of the play Faust by Goethe. The opera was produced in 1859 and soon was performed in many countries, especially in Germany. The composer Richard Wagner was the most important opera composer in Germany and his operas were quite different, so he said that Gounod’s operas were silly.

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 Gounod went to live in England. He stayed there for five years becoming the first conductor of what is now the Royal Choral Society. Gounod wrote a lot of music for choirs at this time, including a motet composed especially for the grand opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871. He worked very hard, although he was often depressed about the war situation in France. His house in Saint-Cloud had been destroyed. He returned to France in 1874 and was glad to be back with his family.

He wrote much chamber music, including five string quartets, but these are hardly ever played today.

Last years

Later in his life, Gounod became very interested in religion again. He wrote a lot of religious music, including his famous 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 wrote two oratorios, including Mors et vita which Queen Victoria liked so much that she asked for it to be played in the Royal Albert Hall in 1886.

He was just finishing a requiem called Le Grand Requiem when he died. He was given a state funeral on October 27, 1893.[1] He asked for all the music at his funeral to be chant only.


  • Sadie, S. (ed.) (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians
  • Condé, G. (ed.) (2009) Charles Gounod

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