The Belgian-born César Franck was organist of St. Clotilde in Paris for over 30 years and from 1872 onward professor of organ at the Conservatoire. His works for the instrument form a much more important and distinctive contribution to its repertoire than their number might suggest. Liszt remarked of his Six Pieces, “These poetic works have a clearly marked place alongside the masterpieces of Bach.” Franck was much loved by his students, who gave him the nickname “Pater seraphicus” (seraphic father). In this deeply-felt Choral we hear him at his most emotional. Franck uses the term choral not in the German sense (meaning a Lutheran hymn-melody) but to describe an original theme harmonized in chorale fashion. He wrote three chorales. His best work, this is a giant passacaglia, suggesting the tolling of a great bell as it moves from somber genesis through an avalanche of sound to its peaceful end.
Program notes © 2009, Dame Gillian Weir