Gounod, Charles François
Gounod was not addicted to the use of counterpoint, even in his larger church works; but there are several noteworthy instances in them which show that this was not due to lack of ability in that line. He has been called an eclectic, a French genius grafted on a German trunk; and his chief models were avowedly the great German composers. The deterioration of his later operatic works has been regretted, but the transfer of his most intense interest to sacred composition offsets th charge of a decline in power toward the latter part of his life. No one denies him real genius, but his exact place among the immortals is not so definitely named as that of some others of the Nineteenth Century. The fact that for more than twentyfive years a large number of young French musicians tried to imitate him is evidence of a strong individuality; only the really great exercise such an influence In 1880 Gounod was made a grand officer of the Legion of Honor. His last years were prosperous and his residence in the Place Malesherbes, Paris, was famed for its beauty and magnificence Here m he reserved a regular part of his time for writing and composing, although permitting himself more social relaxation than he had enjoyed in middle life. He recognized and openly expressed appreciation of many contemporary works that had evoked harsh criticism from the majority of listeners and critics; among these were Wagner's Tannhauser and Bizet's Carmen, both so universally popular in later years, as Gounod had predicted. In time, however, Wagner's music affected him differently, and he kept silence in regard to what he could not sincerely praise. He is said to have exclaimed, "Heaven preserve us from 'interesting' music! If it is not beautiful, it is not music."
Gounod's death took place at his house in St. Cloud, 1893, after a period of declining health following a paralytic stroke. At the time he was in the act of putting away a requiem to which he had just added some finishing touches, and which was to be performed that winter in Paris. In this respect his end has been compared to that of his adored Mozart. All France paid the highest tribute to his remains, and Queen Victoria telegraphed a message of sorrow and sympathy to the composer's wife. In June, 1907, a bronze bust of Gounod was unveiled at St. Cloud with appropriate speeches, including one by Saint-Saens, and also music selected from the composer's works, given by various singers from the Grand Opera.
As a man, Gounod was warmly affectionate, winning many friends; enthusiastic rather than critical, fond of admiration and not entirely exempt from vanity, although his suavity and diplomacy prevented the foible from becoming obtrusive. He was a brilliant conversationalist, especially in his own tongue, although well versed in other languages, in literature, and many subjects beside music. In personal appearance his strong, compact figure and light hair resembled a German type, but his dark, keen eyes were unmistakably French. The portraits most frequently seen of him show a large, broad forehead, strongly marked features, softened by a kindly and intelligent expression, and a full white beard. Though nothing in his appearance would suggest a nervous organization, he was sensitive to an extreme, with a certain proportion of the feminine that is often found in men with the finest artistic natures. Hermann Klein says, Gounod was one of the most fascinating men I have ever met His manner had a charm that was irresistible, and his kindly eyes would light up with a smile now tender, now humorous, that fixed itself ineffaceably upon the memory."