Notes 59.2 (2002) 458-464
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César Franck. L'œuvre pour harmonium en deux volumes. Édition critique de Joël-Marie Fauquet et Joris Verdin. (Musica Gallica.) Paris: Alphonse Leduc (T. Presser), c1998. [Vol. 1. Pref. in Fr., Eng., Ger., p. vii- xxiv; score, 85 p. AL 28 956. €51.60. Vol. 2. Pref. in Fr., Eng., Ger., p. vii- xxiv; score, p. 86-159. AL 29 152. €51.60.]
César Franck. L'organiste: Pièces pour orgue ou harmonium. Nach Autographen und Erstausgabe herausgegeben von Günther Kaunzinger. (Franck: Complete Works for Organ, 5.) Vienna: Wiener Urtext Edition, Schott/Universal Edition, c1997. [Plates, 2 p.; pref., notes on interpretation in Ger., Eng., Fr., p. 8-13; score, p. 14-114; crit. notes, p. 115-35. ISMN M-50057-130-8; UT 50 144. €21.47.]
The time is not that distant when nineteenth-century French composers were not particularly respected, at least in the eyes of music critics. Shortly after the death of one of France's most celebrated icons, Camille Saint-Saëns, the composer- critic Reynaldo Hahn wrote: "Today it takes courage to admire Saint-Saëns" (James Harding, Saint-Saëns and His Circle [London: Chapman & Hall, 1965], xii). César Franck, though Belgian by birth, fared better than many of his Gallic colleagues. His students venerated him, and musicians and the public alike seem never to have tired of his greatest works—the Violin Sonata in A Major, Piano Quintet in F Minor, Variations symphoniques, D-Minor Symphony, and Trois chorals for organ. As the waning decades of the twentieth century became kinder to French romantic composers in general, Franck, too, has enjoyed ever- increased security among the immortals. Musicians and musicologists, eager to seek beyond the standard repertoire of a great composer's oeuvre, have examined so-called [End Page 458] lesser works in hopes of finding a few new gems. Any genre of music by an important composer such as Franck cannot be overlooked, and an excellent critical edition is always welcome.
Today, it is hard to imagine that the harmonium ever had a high profile among musical instruments. Indeed, the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ([New York: Grove, 2001], 10:858) devotes only three short paragraphs to this ingenious instrument—initially little more than an expansion of the accordion. Yet, in its heyday the harmonium enjoyed considerable popularity in the salons of French high society and, because of its organlike character and modest price, in the newly emerging post-Revolution Catholic Church. Alexandre Debain—a French piano builder who excelled in mechanics and cabinetry—claimed a series of patents for an "orgue-expressif," which he later called "harmonium." His instruments usually contained four sets of reeds, divided mid-keyboard and controlled by eight stops. The brief essays by Kurt Lueders, "A Captivating Repertoire and the Instrument at Its Heart," and Michel Dieterlen, "The Harmonium: A Brief History," in the booklet accompanying the compact disc L'harmonium au salon (Euromuses EURM 2022 , with Lueders playing the harmonium), provide good overviews of the instrument and its early repertory.
Despite the instrument's period of favor, original music for solo harmonium is not plentiful. Hector Berlioz, reportedly moved to tears by the harmonium playing of Sigismond Thalberg, composed his only three keyboard pieces for the instrument in 1845. Among the most notable contributors to the literature (besides Franck) were Alexandre Guilmant and the Vierne brothers (Louis and René), whose harmonium works specify the more marketable "orgue ou harmonium" on their title pages. Arrangements seem to have made up most of the solo repertory. Perhaps more interesting are concerted works in which the harmonium took a part—the duets for piano and harmonium by Saint-Saëns and Charles-Marie Widor especially come to mind. A few non-French composers also showed interest in the instrument, such as Antonín Dvorák in his Bagatelles, op. 47, for harmonium and string quartet, and as an orchestral instrument, Gustav Mahler in his...