Joris Verdin

César Franck and the harmonium
Het ORGEL 94 (1998), nr. 5, 6-23 [summary]

The harmonium works of César Franck are often not recognised as such. The following works are for harmonium: Offertoire en mi bémol (1861), Cinq Pièces pour harmonium (1864), Offertoire en La majeur (1905), Offertoire sur un Noël Breton (1867), Quasi Marcia opus 22 (1868), Petit Offertoire (1885), two manuscripts (before 1890), Pièces pour harmonium (1890) and Prélude, Fugue, Variation for harmonium and piano (1873).

The Pièces pour harmonium (L'Organiste) are an unfinished collection of pieces. Their function is not clear. They could be used as Magnificat verses, in the mass, in a 'Messe basse' or in an 'Office des Vêpres'. Maybe they are just a collection multifunctional pieces? The Pièces Posthumes pour Harmonium ou Orgue à Pédales (1905) are not related to L'Organiste: they are organ music, are much earlier and show less coherence as a group. Publisher Enoch made up the title 'L'Organiste volume 2' for them.

A Mustel-harmonium out-of 1874 (number 209) out-of the collection of Wim Olthof, Kornhorn
Photo Wim Olthof

All Franck's works can be characterised by the term's 'eroicus', 'melodicus', and 'seraphicus'. Developments in his work show the influence of the harmonium: the heroic is unmistakable in the earliest organ music; the melodic element is stimulated by the combination piano and harmonium and the serafic element is an important feature of the sober chorale style, which is related to the true harmonium style.

Studying Franck's harmonium works shows that these works are exclusively harmonium music, the quality and quantity of which is comparable to that of the organ music; and that the Pièces Posthumes are organ music, which means that the extent of Franck's organ music is greater by half than is generally assumed.