SOUVENANCEFranck Mélodies and Organ Works
AMY PFRIMMER, soprano
THOMAS KIENTZ, organ
Organ: Orgue Cavaillé-Coll, L’abbaye de Royaumont (1864)
PROGRAM NOTESThough Belgian by birth, modest, simple, and religious composer César Franck claimed France as his adopted homeland and left an undeniable legacy upon its musical landscape. Franck established himself in Paris as a music teacher, organist, and noted improviser after initially embarking upon the musical world as a hopeful piano prodigy. Ultimately, it was as an organ professor and unofficial composition instructor at the Consérvatoire de Paris where Franck emerged as an important and highly influential musical leader.
The political and social upheavals of the 1870’s contributed to a variety of new aesthetic trends. “Realism in literature, the Parnassian and Symbolist schools in poetry, and Impressionism in painting were all artistic reactions to what was seen as a decay of French culture and identity during the Second Empire.” Musically the impulse to preserve French artistic taste was also present. In that context, the Société Nationale de Musique was established in 1872 to promote new French chamber music by contemporary composers including Franck and revive the practice of concert going to supplement and challenge the current cultural preference for opera. Franck is often seen as having played a role in restoring the French taste for ‘pure music’ and exemplifying ‘serious’ French musical ideals that influenced later composers such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Olivier Messiaen.
A widely celebrated organist and skilled improviser, Franck composed numerous works for the instrument. He gained the notice of the great organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who tapped Franck to inaugurate several organs in prominent Paris churches including the reconstructed Saint-Sulpice instrument and the organs of Notre Dame Cathedral, Trinité, and Sainte-Clotilde (where Franck was titular organist from 1858 until his death). Many of his organ works display the instrument’s orchestral capabilities. Especially illustrative of this feature are the great organ examples included here: the Pastorale (dedicated to Aristide Cavaillé- Coll) and Fantaisie, from Franck’s Trois Pièces composed in 1878 for the inauguration of Paris’ Trocadero organ. is recording features the splendid Cavaillé-Coll organ of the L’abbaye de Royaumont (built in 1864), and displays the organ’s versatility, warmth, and musical coloration.
Franck’s influence upon other late-Romantic composers is undeniable. Ernest Chausson, Henri Duparc, Alexis de Castillon, Vincent d’Indy, and Emmanuel Chabrier were devoted followers of the man they called Pére Franck. Along with his students Louis Vierne, Guillaume Lekeu, Guy Ropartz, Paul Dukas, and other devotees, this group became known as La bande à Franck, and members were sometimes called Franckistes. The most notable and direct compositional influence on this later generation was his chromatically adventurous harmonic writing increasingly found in Franck’s work as he matured. Inspired by the harmonic language and chromaticism of Richard Wagner, Franck’s particular interpretation and use of this harmonic language inspired the musical tastes of his students and followers.
While Franck’s compositional output was substantial, he wrote only eighteen songs or mélodies, as they are called in French, of which thirteen are included here. These works feature texts by such beloved and respected literary figures as Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, and Sully Prudhomme. Considering both Franck’s overall musical output and his stature as a musical leader, it is somewhat troubling that, today, his songs are barely mentioned in written discussions of the mélodie, are rarely included in French song anthologies, and are seldom performed in concert. It has been noted that Franck’s French prosody is not always the most natural, sometimes resulting in awkwardly-set texts. Despite these ‘quirks’, which are certainly to be found among the canonic works of other French composers, his songs remain a beautiful and important part of the history of the mélodie. His early songs, such as Souvenance and Robin Gray, are romantic, reminiscent of and influenced by the expressive and sentimental French romance, as well as by German Lieder (particularly those of Franz Schubert, his favorite composer). His middle period offers us such uncomplicated, lovely mélodies as S’il est un charmant gazon and Le mariage des roses. Later songs display more developed, richer and more complicated harmony, late-style chromaticism, and arguably improved text setting as seen in La vase brisé and Nocturne. La Procession, originally composed for voice and orchestra, but performed here in transcription on the Royaumont organ, and Nocturne are widely regarded as two of Franck’s best mélodies.
Known for her dramatic and vocal versatility, soprano Amy Pfrimmer has performed across the United States, Canada and Europe. Notable operatic engagements include Opéra de Montréal, New Orleans Opera, Bulgarian State Opera Stara Zagora, Florida Grand Opera, Mississippi Opera, Opera Grand Rapids, Virginia Opera, Mozart Festival Opera and Ohio Light Opera in such roles as the Merry Widow, Violetta, Mimì, Musetta, Cio-Cio San, Nedda, Rosalinda, Pamina and Freia. She appears often in the concert setting as well, having performed with the Illinois Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Virginia Symphony, Alabama Symphony, Memphis Symphony, Louisiana Philharmonic, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and with the London Symphony and Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. Recent concert works include Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Poulenc’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, J.S. Bach’s Wachet Auf, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. She collaborated frequently with the late Dave Brubeck in his Mass, To Hope! A Celebration and La Fiesta de la Posada. A frequent award-winner, Pfrimmer received a fellowship from Louisiana Division of the Arts, a study grant from the Metropolitan Opera’s Education Fund, Florida Grand Opera’s Gilbert Artist of the Year, and an Emerging Leader Award from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). Early in her career, she attracted considerable attention as a national finalist and regional winner of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. A dedicated teacher, Pfrimmer has served as voice area coordinator and has directed the concert vocal series of Tulane University since 2007 and was appointed the Lillian Gerson Watsky Professor in Voice there in 2012. She makes frequent guest artist appearances, is sought after as a contest adjudicator and has conducted numerous university and young artist program master classes, notably at the Brevard Music Center and National Classical Singer Conference. Pfrimmer is a principal cantor at New Orleans’ St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. An alumnus of the distinguished young artist programs of the Florida Grand Opera, Virginia Opera and Chautauqua Opera, Pfrimmer received her Master of Music degree from Loyola University of New Orleans, and her Bachelor of Music from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Her teachers have included Martina Arroyo, Mary Henderson Buckley, Philip Frohnmayer, Sandra Kungle, Arthur Levy, and Patricia O’Neill.
Thomas Kientz began his musical studies at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg in France. After earning a Diplôme d’Etudes Musicales and a Diplôme de Perfectionnement with honors in the piano class of Michel Benhaiem and organ class of Daniel Maurer, Kientz went to Paris to perfect his skills with Vincent Warnier at the organ, Nicolas Mallarte in piano at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory and with organist Pierre Pincemaille. From the Music Conservatory of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, he earned a Music Diploma with highest distinction. Kientz received his master’s degree at the Conservatoire National superieur de musique et de danse de Paris in the organ class of Olivier Latry and Michel Bouvard. He is pursuing further degrees in improvisation with professors ierry Escaich and Laszlo Fassang. A frequent award-winner, he won first prizes in harmony with Yves Henri and counterpoint with Pierre Pincemaille, First Prize at the 8th International Organ Competition of Saint-Maurice in Switzerland, Grand Prix d’Orgue Jean-Louis Florentz of the Académie des Beaux Arts and two prizes at the Béthune/Saint-Omer International Competition. Kientz performs on stages around the world, including in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and in the United States. He was the 2013–14 Young Artist-in-Residence at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans (Louisiana). Kientz currently serves as titular organist of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Protestant Church in Strasbourg, and as co-titular organist of the choir organ of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
PROGRAMCÉSAR FRANCK (1822-1890)
Roses et papillons (Roses and Butterflies) FWV 81 (1860) | Victor Hugo
Le mariage des roses (The Marriage of the Roses) FWV 80 (1871) | Eugène David
S’il est un charmant gazon (If There Is a Charming Lawn) FWV 78 (1857) | Victor Hugo
Le vase brisé (The Broken Vase) FWV 84 (1879) | Sully Prudhomme
Passez! Passez toujours! (Pass away! Pass away always!) FWV 82 (1860) | Victor Hugo
Souvenance (Remembrance) FWV 70 (1842-1843) | François-René, Vicomte de Châteaubriand
Robin Gray FWV 74 (1842-1843) | Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian
Nocturne (Nocturne) FWV 85 (1884) | Louis de Fourcaud
Les cloches du soir (Evening Bells) FWV 87 (1888) | Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
Pour moi sa main cueillait des roses (Her Hand Gathered the Roses) FWV 83 (1873) | Lucien Paté
Aimer (Beloved) FWV 76 (1849) | François Joseph Pierre André Méry
Ninon (Ninon) FWV 71 (1851) | Louis Charles Alfred de Musset
La procession (The Procession) FWV 88 (1888) | Julien Auguste Pélage Brizeux
Pastorale en mi majeur pour orgue, from Six Pièces, Op.16-21 FWV 31 (1863)
Fantaisie en la majeur pour orgue, from Trois Pièces FWV 35 (1878)