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A Pact with the Devil

Donald Macleod charts the struggles and frustrations Gounod overcame to create one of his biggest hits, Faust.

Donald Macleod charts the struggles and frustrations Gounod overcame to create one of his biggest hits, "Faust".

The importance of Charles Gounod was readily acknowledged by the generations who succeeded him. A prolific composer, his contribution to song repertoire led Ravel to call him the "father of the French melodie". Bizet, Massenet and Saint-Saens all took inspiration from his operas, while the body of religious music he produced is so substantial, it has yet to be properly assessed. Given his standing among peers it's perhaps unfair that his reputation faded so quickly after his death in 1893. In more recent times his reputation has recovered but still, unfairly, rests on a handful of works. This week, therefore, presents a rare chance to delve into the surprising breadth of Gounod's musical preoccupations.

Born in 1818 into an artistic family, Gounod found success early on in 1839 as a winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome competition. The years he spent in Rome as a consequence led to a life-long love affair with Italy. As a young man he considered taking holy orders, but his desire for success as a theatre composer won out in the end. While he continued to write music for the church, he went on to complete twelve operas, among them "Faust", "Mireille", hugely popular in its day, and "Romeo et Juliette".

Gounod's first opera may have opened at the prestigious Paris Opera, but his pathway to a theatrical hit was far from guaranteed. His second opera, which had the grisly title, the Bleeding Nun, vanishised without a trace. Meanwhile Gounod met with the formidable force of his old piano teacher's wife. A change in his domestic life was soon on the cards.

Ave Maria
Ann Murray, mezzo soprano
Graham Johnson, piano

La Nonne sanglante, Act 3 (excerpt)
Yoonki Baek, tenor, Rodolphe
Eva Schneidereit, la Nonne sanglante
Chorus and Extra Chorus of Osnabrück Theatre
Osnabrücker Symphony Orchestra
Herman Bäumer, director
Symphony No. 2 in E flat (2nd movement)
Larghetto (non troppo)
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Oleg Caetani, conductor

Faust, Act 1 (excerpt)
Jerry Hadley, tenor, Faust
Samuel Ramey, bass-baritone, Méphistophélès
Philippe Fourcade, baritone, Wagner
Chorus & Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Carlo Rizzi, conductor

Faust (Act 2) (excerpt)
Cecilia Gasdia, soprano, Marguérite
Jerry Hadley, tenor, Faust
Samuel Ramey, bass-baritone, Méphistophélès
Orchestra of WNO
Carlo Rizzi, conductor.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Charles‐François Gounod

    Un jour plus pur; Me voici, moi ton supplice! (La nonne sanglante)

    Performer: Yoonki Baek. Performer: Eva Schneidereit. Performer: Chorus And Extra Chorus Of Osnabrück Theatre. Performer: Osnabrücker Symphony Orchestra.
    • Charles Gounod: La Nonne Sanglante.
    • CPO.
    • 8.
  • Charles‐François Gounod

    Symphony No 2 in E flat major (2nd movement)

    Orchestra: Orchestra della Svizzera italiana. Conductor: Oleg Caetani.
    • Gounod: Symphonies Nos. 1-3.
    • CPO.
    • 6.
  • Charles‐François Gounod

    A moi les plaisirs; Vin ou biere (Faust)

    Singer: Jerry Hadley. Singer: Samuel Ramey. Singer: Philippe Fourcade. Orchestra: Welsh National Opera Orchestra. Choir: Welsh National Opera Chorus. Conductor: Carlo Rizzi.
    • Gounod: Faust.
    • Teldec.
    • 6.

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