David Coucheron and Julie Coucheron perform Franck's Sonata in A minor (credit: Julia Dokter)

César Franck bicentennial celebrated with a pair of his best-known works

César Franck 200th Anniversary Concert
October 7, 2022
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA
Concerts @ First & American Guild of Organists (Atlanta Chapter)
David Coucheron, violin; Julie Coucheron, piano; Jens Korndörfer, organ

César FRANCK: Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano
César FRANCK: Trois Chorals pour grand orgue, M. 38-40

Mark Gresham | 10 OCT 2022

The city of Liège lies at the confluence of the rivers Meuse and Ourthe in modern-day eastern Belgium, not far from that country’s borders with Germany and The Netherlands. Two hundred years ago, Liège was part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. That ended in 1830 when the Belgian Revolution led to an independent Belgium. Liège developed rapidly into a significant industrial city, part of the sillon industriel, the former industrial backbone of Wallonia, with iron and steel foundries, glassworks, coal mines, armament factories, and copper refineries, and one of the most important river ports in western Europe with a strong working-class character.

César Franck (photo by Pierre_Petit)

César Franck (photo by Pierre_Petit)

The Liège that immediately preceded the Belgian era was also the birthplace of French Romantic composer, pianist, organist, and teacher César-Auguste Jean-Guillaume Hubert Franck, born on December 10, 1822.

Franck gave his first concerts in Liège in 1834, then went to Paris to study the following year. He returned briefly to Belgium, then relocated back to Paris for good, where he launched his career, becoming organist at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Paris, in 1858, a position he held for the rest of his life. He later became a French national.

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This past Friday, Concerts@First and the Atlanta Chapter of the American Guild of Organists came together to present a concert celebrating the bicentennial birth year of César Franck with a program that included two of his best-known works, both written late in the composer’s life.

Violinist David Coucheron and pianist Julie Coucheron opened the program with Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major.

The Sonata was composed in 1886, when César Franck was 63, as a wedding present for the 28-year-old violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. It is a significant piece of the core violin repertoire and often appears on recital programs (perhaps even too often at times), heard also in various transcriptions for cello, flute, and other instruments although Franck himself had only approved the cello transcription by the renowned cellist Jules Delsart as an alternative to the original for violin. The work is cyclic in structure, with all four movements sharing common thematic materials that transform as the music progresses. The piano part is notably challenging for chamber repertoire, particularly the second movement.

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The performance by the Coucheron siblings was splendid. Warm, fluid, and full of emotion without being overbearing. It stands at the top of the live performances I’ve heard in the last handful of years.

Franck is unquestionably a cornerstone of the French organ tradition. His Trois Chorals pour grand orgue, written in the final year of his life, serve as the pinnacle of his legacy and represent mastery of motivic development. Although the chorale preludes of Bach inspired Franck, these three “chorals” are more fantasias suited to concert performance than religious service music due to their size and scope. Instead of traditional hymns, they use an original, freely composed melody that Franck unveils gradually.

Organist Jens Korndörfer performs Franck's "Trois Chorals" on the sanctuary organ at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. (credit: Julia Dokter)

Organist Jens Korndörfer performs Franck’s “Trois Chorals” on the sanctuary organ at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. (credit: Julia Dokter)

The Trois Chorals were performed after intermission by organist Jens Korndörfer, Director of Worship and the Arts at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. He had most recently performed the complete set of Franck’s Chorals this past summer on tour in Norway, Denmark, and France, plus Choral No. 3 alone in several other recitals this year.

Playing his “home” instrument in Friday’s concert at First Presbyterian (organ specs listed below), Korndörfer drew forth a wealth of color from the solemn and profound work, communicating exceptionally well the strongly religious expression that characterizes them.

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First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
Sanctuary Organ

Pilcher 1919 – Moller 1969 – Zimmer 1992 – Klais/Schlueter 2018
10 Divisions, 112 Ranks, 6,397 Pipes
GREAT, Manual II
32 Contra Bourdon
16 Principal
10 2/3 Quinte
8 Principal
8 nate harmonique
8 Gambe
8 Holzbourdon
5 1/3 Quinte
4 Octave
4 Spitzflote
II III Cornet
2 Superoctave I
V Mixture
8 Trompete

16 Rohrgedackt
8 Geigenprincipal
8 Rohrgedackt
8 Salicional
8 Vox Celeste
4 Principal
4 Nachthorn
2 2/3 Nazard
2 Piccolo
1 3/5 Tierce
1 1/3 Larigot
II-III Progressio
16 Trompette
8 Trompette
8 Hautbois
8 Vox Humana
4 Clairon

CHOIR, Manual I
8 Principal
8 Hohlflote
8 Flauto Dolce
8 Flute Celeste
8 Cello
4 Octave
4 Koppelflote
2 Flachflöte
III Mixture
16 Posaune
8 Posaune
8 Schalmei
8 Trompette en Chamade Temolo

8 Principal
4 Prestant
4 Spillflote
2 2/3 Nasat
2 Hohlpfeife
1 1/7 Septime
II Sesquialtera
III Scharf
16 Dulzian
8 Clarinette Tremolo

SOLO, Manual IV
8 Doppelflote
8 Viola Pomposa
8 Viola Pomposa Celeste
4 Flute octaviante
V Grand Cornet
16 Posaune (CH)
8 English Tuba
4 Tuba Clairon
8 Trompette en Chamade

ORCHESTRAL, floating
16 Principal (GT)
16 Bourdon (SW)
16 Gemshorn (gal GT)
16 Rohrgedackt (SW)
8 Flute harmonique
8 Cello (CH)
8 + 4 Streicher-schwebung
5 1/3 Quinte
4 Flute octaviante
16 Posaune
16 Trompette
16 Krummhorn (Gal EC)
8 Posaune
8 Trompette
8 Clarinette
8 Oboe (Gal EC)
8 Trompette en Chamade

32 Contra Bourdon
16 Principal
16 Violon.
16 Rohrgedackt
16 Bourdon
10 2/3 Quinte
8 Octave
8 Spitzflote
8 Cello
8 Bourdon
8 Rohrgedackt
6 2/5 Terz
5 1/3 Quinte
4 4/7 Septime
4 Bourdon
4 Choralbass
4 Spitzflote
3 5/9 None
2 Spitzflote
32 Bombarde
16 Holzposaune
16 Posaune
16 Trompette
8 Trompette
4 Clairon
8 Trompette en Chamade
4 Trompette en Chamade

GAL GREAT, floating
8 Principal
8 Gedackt
4 Octave
2 Fifteenth
1 Sifflet
II-IV Mixture

GAL SWELL, floating
8 Gemshorn
8 Gemshorn Celeste
4 Hohlflote
2 2/3 Rohrnasat
2 Principal
2 Blockflote
III Scharf
16 Trompette
8 Trompette Tremolo

GAL ECHO, floating
16 Gemshorn
8 Gedackt
8 Aeoline S Gamba
8 Gamba Celeste
4 Fugara
16 Krummhorn
8 Orchestral Oboe
4 Musette Tremolo

16 Subbass
16 Bourdon
8 Bourdon
8 Gedackt
4 RohrfLote
16 Fagott
8 Trompette

Syndyne Control System

  • Double row coupler rail
  • Sostenuto on all manuals
  • Pedal divide (adjustable)
  • Registerfessel
  • Expression shoes: Solo, Choir, Swell, Clarinette expres-sion (default)/Crescendo; Gal Swell & Gal Echo ex-pression can be assigned; all swells to swell;
  • 2 blank pistons that allow programming non standard coupling at any pitch
  • French manual transfer
  • Main control screen in pull out drawer
  • Displays on name board: Cresc level, Mem level, General, Piston Sequencer Performance
  • Full record & playback on touch screen
  • Four programmable crescendi per user
  • Up to 50 users with 100 levels of memory each
  • Power blower buttons: Master, Main Organ, Gallery Echo

Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.