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Charles-François Gounod

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Charles-François Gounod (June 18, 1818 – October 18, 1893) was a French composer, best 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 a draftsman 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.

He won the Prix de Rome in 1839 for his cantata Ferdinand.

He subsequently went to Italy where he studied the music of Palestrina. He concentrated on religious music of the sixteenth century.

Gounod eventually returned to Paris and composed the “Messe Solennelle”, also known as the “Saint Cecilia Mass”. This work was first performed in London during 1851 and began his reputation as a noteworthy composer.

He wrote two symphonies in 1855. His Symphony No.1 in D major was the inspiration for Georges Bizet’s (who was then Gounod’s 17 year old student) Symphony No. 1 in C, composed later that same year. Despite their charm and brilliance, Gounod’s symphonies are seldom performed. One of the few recordings of the symphonies was made by Sir Neville Mariner.

Caricature from Punch, 1882.Gounod wrote his first opera, Sappho, in 1851, but had no great success until Faust (1859), based on the play by Goethe. This remains his best-known work. The romantic and highly melodious Roméo et Juliette (based on the Shakespeare play), premiered in 1867, is also performed and recorded regularly. The charming and highly individual Mireille of 1864 is admired by connoisseurs.

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