By Mary Nemet | From the January-February 2022 issue of Strings magazine
Mention the name of Franck to the classical-music lover and almost certainly Liège-born Belgian César Franck comes to mind. However, a contemporary (and no relation), Eduard (1817–1893), born in Breslau five years earlier, is considered by scholars to be of equal stature.
Eduard Franck: Sonata No. 1 for Violin & Piano in C minor, Op. 19
Edition Breitkopf, €21.90
Eduard Franck’s fellow composers held him in high esteem, not least Mendelssohn, who took him as a pupil and praised his student’s “masterly craftsmanship” in a collection of 12 Piano Études, Op. 1, dedicated to his mentor. Later, Franck absorbed influences in London, Paris, and Rome, becoming acquainted with luminaries of the day (Schumann, Verdi, Wagner, and Liszt) and hearing the music of Bruckner, Brahms, Mahler, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky. It is little wonder that Franck’s musical palette developed such richness. If he emerged from the shadow of his role models to increasing critical acclaim, with his violin concerto scoring a real triumph, why is Eduard Franck so little-known today? Some say that it was because he was a perfectionist—he published very few works in his lifetime—and perhaps also because he chose to remain true to the heritage of Mendelssohn and his circle, rather than seeking new forms.
Among symphonies, concertos, and orchestral music, Franck’s chamber music is considered his finest, containing two cello and four violin sonatas, trios, quartets, string quintets, and two sextets.
The first violin sonata, with its “quasi-Fantasia” design, opens strikingly with a cadenza, refuting the notion that he was conservative, afraid to go beyond established forms. In fact, he reaches out in brilliant fashion, delivering a wealth of thematic and rhythmic ideas. The heartfelt and nostalgic Andante is followed by a passionate, glittering Allegro finale with both violin and piano showing off their virtuosity.
One can hear shades of Mendelssohn and other Romantics in this highly effective work. However, Franck demonstrates his own distinctive style. Franck’s subsequent three violin and piano sonatas highlight his development even more, providing drama and quicksilver passages as well as quiet meditation, still in places reminiscent of Mendelssohn but forging ahead, presaging Brahms and Bruckner.
This finely crafted first sonata of 1853 is a worthy addition to the Romantic repertoire for violin and piano. Breitkopf’s critical text edition, part of an anthology intended to make Franck’s oeuvre more accessible, has been rigorously researched and edited in a very clear format. Apart from the original dynamic markings, no bowings or fingerings have been added, resulting in an exemplary printing on Breitkopf’s buff-colored paper.