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  • Nationality: French
  • 1818 - 1893
  • You might know him for: Ave Maria

Charles Gounod, French composer and best known for his opera “Faust”, was born on 17. June 1818 in Paris. His mother, a pianist, gave him piano lessons at an early age. Gounod was educated at the Lycee St.Louis and from 1835 on privately studied music with Anton Reicha. He entered the Paris conservatory in 1836, where Halevy and LeSueur were his teachers, and won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1839 with his cantata “Fernand”. After that Gounod went to Rome to study the old masters, especially Palestrina. He left Rome in 1842 and took a route via Vienna, Berlin and Leipzig to return to Paris. While in Leipzig, Mendelssohn arranged a performance of his “Scottish Symphony” for Gounod and also gave him a recital of organ works by Bach at the Thomaskirche.

Back in Paris Gounod became an organist and for two years occupied himself with studying theology at St.Sulpice (1846.48). But finally he decided not to enter the priesthood and turned towards writing operas. His first composition “Sapho” (1851) was not favourably received by the public, but “Faust”, based on Goethe`s tragedy brought a breakthrough in 1859 and is still regarded as his masterpiece. Though most of his twelve operas are not performed nowadays Gounod is a respected and well known composer representing the French “Opera lyrique”. From 1870 till 1874 Gounod spent four years in London where he founded “Gounod`s Choir” which became the “Royal Choral Society”.

In later years the deeply religious Gounod devoted himself almost entirely to writing church music. Many of his oratorios were first produced in England. But due to his lyrical style that was often too sentimental his works were soon forgotten. His 1852 “Meditation sur le ler prelude de Bach”, adopted from the prelude of Bach´s “Well tempered Clavier”, which he set the “Ave Maria” text to in 1859 made him famous. He is also well known because of the signature tune of the U.S. television series “Alfred Hitchcock presents” which is the main theme of Gounod`s “Marche funebre d`une marionette” (Funeral march of a puppet). Gounod became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour in 1888; he died at St.Cloud on 18. October 1893.

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