Gounod, Charles François

During the winter of 1840 and 1841 the composer met and played an accompaniment for Pauline Viardot, who was to be so influential later in the beginning of his public career. He also made the acquaintance of Fanny Mendelssohn Henzel, and was deeply impressed with her musical gifts. Mme. Henzel, on the other hand, writes of Gounod thus: "Gounod has a passion for music; it is a pleasure to have such a listener. His nature is passionate and romantic to excess. Our German music produces upon him the effect of a bomb bursting inside a house." From Italy, where the germ of Faust was conceived, he went to Austria and Germany, and in Vienna, in 1842, his Requiem Mass was performed. As he had but six weeks in which to complete this work, he kept at it night and day, according to his own account, and brought on a severe illness, which fortunately proved brief. In Berlin he renewed his acquaintance with the Henzels, and through them was admitted to the favor of Mendelssohn, who showed him every possible courtesy. During his sojourn in Germany, Gounod heard for the first time the compositions of Robert Schumann. Refreshed, encouraged, and inspired by these years of travel and study, he set about finding a publisher in Paris for his works, but the time had not yet come. He became organist and musical director of the chapel of the Seminary of Foreign Missions, and there remained in seclusion for nearly five years; during this time he studied theology, and was so near the point of taking orders that he was referred to in an 1846 issue of a musical periodical, as the Abbe Gounod, a name which clung to him persistently. In February, 1848, he left his post at the chapel, which had allowed him much leisure to employ in composition, chiefly of religious music, and in study of the scores of Schumann and Berlioz. The composer's thoughts were turning toward the stage as the best available medium for becoming known; but several years elapsed before he could fulfill this desire. In 1851 an article appeared in the London Athenaeum calling attention to Gounod as a "poet and musician of a very high order;" his Messe Solennelfe, first given in Paris two years before, having just been produced in the British capital. This article, attributed to Louis Viardot, did for Gounod in France what his own efforts had hitherto failed to accomplish  It was copied by various journals in Paris and other cities. Through the kind offices of Mme. Viardot he secured a celebrated librettist for his first opera, Sapho, for the principal part in which the singer, then in her prime, had offered her services. Sapho was produced at the Grand Opera in 1851, and while it did not create a sensation, it won the praise of Berlioz and the recognition of other discriminating musicians and critics.