Week 7: Franck in Love / by Maire Carroll

A few weeks ago Irish composer, Raymond Deane, sent me a fascinating link entitled ‘Quintet of Discontent:  César Franck and Augusta Holmès’. It’s a rather short article but it makes reference to a woman named Augusta Holmès, who enjoyed popularity in the sophisticated circles of Parisian society:  

"Holmès, a naturalized French composer of Irish descent was rumored to have been fathered by the celebrated novelist and poet Alfred de Vigny’’. I was previously unaware of this Irish connection. It transpires that Franck was madly in love with his student Augusta Holmès who came to study privately with him in 1876. She garnered much attention at the Paris Conservatoire:

‘’Saint-Saëns, together with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and almost the entire male faculty of the Paris  Conservatoire, was passionately in love with Augusta. In fact, Saint-Saëns had numerously proposed marriage to Holmès, but had always been sweetly ignored.’’

Franck admired Holmès musical and artistic talent and found it difficult to ignore her beauty. His piano quintet was written with her in mind.  "Eyewitnesses report that he was getting highly emotional and enraged during the performance, apparently discovering some secret code or covert message in the score’’

The performance enraged both Félicité Saillot (Franck’s wife) and Saint-Saëns (the works dedicatee) for obvious reasons. 

‘’This intimate and scarcely platonic relationship inspired Frank to publicly disclose his feelings in the Piano Quintet, prompting a critic to quip “the piano quintet is, by any measure, not quite the sound that anyone would expect to hear from the organ-loft.’’

How interesting that Franck’s muse was of Irish descent!

Until next week,

M x