Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed, How to Listen to It

By Marion Bauer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
NATIONALISM IN FRANCE: "LA SOCIÉTÉ NATIONALE DE MUSIQUE," CÉSAR FRANCK AND HIS FOLLOWERS

THE national consciousness in France was aroused not through a study of its folk music resources, but was the result of a revolt against German musical domination, a gesture that arose from political events surrounding the Franco-Prussian War.

With the exception of Berlioz, who was unappreciated by his own people, French tradition had been hidden in so-called French opera represented by the works of Gluck, Rossini and Meyerbeer. French composers were popular only as writers of light opera, and the second Empire seemed apathetic to instrumental music and indifferent to any serious native music.

A few orchestras were in existence before 1870 and some concert organizations, but as Camille Saint-Saëns said, the few chamber music societies that existed were closed to all newcomers, and "In those times one had really to be devoid of all common sense to write music."

The development of music in France between the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the World War is almost without precedent.

To César Franck ( 1822-1890), a Belgian by birth who lived in Paris from his twelfth year, credit is due for having founded the modern French school concerning which Romain Rolland, who never hid his preference for German music, said in 1905, "French art is quietly taking the place of German art." (L'art français, silencieusement, est en train de prendre la place de l'art allemand.) Franck made his home the center of a group of pupils and sympathizers. There they heard each other's compositions, discussed musical problems and received the kindly, constructive criticism of

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