Gounod, Charles François
From this time Gounod renounced the world and paganism as sources of inspiration, and devoted his energies to sacred music. While his Mass to St. Cecilia is estimated by Pagnerre as holding the same position among the remainder of his sacred works that Faust does among his operas, The Redemption, 1882, and Mors et Vita (Life and Death), 1885, are the fruits of his ripened genius in this direction. Gounod wrote the librettos of both oratorios, which were in the form of trilogies. The former work was dedicated to Queen Victoria, who greatly admired the composer, and was performed first at Birmingham, where he himself conducted it, and in 1884 at Paris. Mors et Vita forms a sequel to The Redemption, and is said to be more melodious, although, owing to the Latin libretto, it has not attained the same general favor. Of The Redemption the composer is quoted as saying, " I did not set myself to create a musical symbol of the Christian religion, but to depict the treasures of love, of unspeakable tenderness . . . which the Son of God carried in his heart. I aimed at affecting the world with the sight of a human drama, the most pathetic, most magnificent of all."
Gounod left two posthumous operas that were never performed, Maitre Pierre, and Georges Dandin, the latter having a prose libretto, after Moliere, verbatim. Beside the works mentioned are the following: Incidental music to Legouve's drama, Les Deux Reines de France, and to Barbier's Jeanne d'Arc; a Mass for St. Peter's (posthumous); an oratorio, Tobie; a mass to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; Gallia, a "biblical elegy; " a Stabat Mater; and an O Salutaris. Among his less important works are a Missa brevis; a Paternoster; a De Profundis; an Ave verum; a Te Deum; a Magnificat, Jesus sur de lac de Tiberiade, and a cantata, A la frontiere. His songs, as one writer says, are minor works in quantity, not in quality. Some of the best known are O That We Two Were Maying, Maid of Athens, the serenade, Sing, Smile, Slumber; all secular; There is a Green Hill, Nazareth, and Repentance, representative of his sacred songs. His instrumental music includes two symphonies; a march pontifica]e;a march Romaine; waltzes; songs without words; and other small pieces for piano; but this was not Gounod's natural vein. A few orchestral works are left: A Saltarello in A; an arrangement of a Bach prelude; and the popular Funeral March of a Marionette, a unique humorous sketch, which has also been arranged for piano and for organ. The famous Ave Maria was written originally for Wely, and the part now used for organ was composed for the humbler harmonium. Gounod's essays on works by Saint-Saens have already been mentioned; there are also autobiographical memoirs, which have been translated into English, but are incomplete, as they extend only to the time of Faust's production. There is also a "rhapsodical effusion" on Don Giovanni, which has been slurringly criticized as probably insincere. From Gounod's intense admiration of Mozart, however, we can hardly believe this; it was simply his way of recording an overpowering impression. This was translated and published in English in 1895. Gounod also wrote a method for the cornet a pistons.
Wilhelm Heinrich states that "Gounod is almost the only French composer who possessed a deep religious nature and gave vent to it in many beautiful sacred melodies." Of these the one best known is the Ave Maria, in which he superimposed a melody for the voice to Bach's First Prelude.
Notwithstanding the fact that musical expression took precedence of form in Gounod's work, he composed with care, and the effects he produced are no more the result of emotional inspiration than they are of close analysis and refined perception. He is a master of the beautiful, the poetic, the tender, rather than of the tragic or the sublime. Every one who writes of him calls attention to the presence of two widely opposite characteristics in his compositions, sensuousness and mysticism. His sense of color in painting was evident in his writing for the orchestra; in this he is said to have produced his most effective results with the minimum of means. Unlike Wagner, he identified characters in his operatic music, not by certain set phrases, but by the intrinsic fitness of the musical expression at the moment.