Belgian composer. He was a pioneer of cyclic form, and his harmonic style was influenced by his experience as a church organist. His music, mainly religious and Romantic in style, includes the Symphony in D Minor (1886–88), Variations symphoniques (1885) for piano and orchestra, the Violin Sonata (1886), the oratorio Les Béatitudes/The Beatitudes (1879), and many organ pieces.
Franck was born in Liège. A precociously gifted child, especially as a pianist, he made a concert tour in Belgium at the age of 11. Sent to Paris, France, in 1835 to study, he entered the Conservatory in 1837; there he won prizes each year until he left in 1842. He returned to Belgium, but settled permanently in Paris in 1844. In 1848 he married a young actor and was appointed organist at the church of Saint-Jean-Saint-François in 1851. In 1853 he became choirmaster and in 1858 organist at Sainte-Clotilde. He was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation. He was appointed professor of the organ at the Conservatory in 1872.
Franck gathered together a circle of young, eager students, including Vincent d'Indy, Ernest Chausson, Guillaume Lekeu, and Henri Duparc, and with them pursued the study of polyphonic and symphonic music; he was the founder of a special branch of modern French music, one which absorbed the innovations of Wagner without loss of individuality.
He became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1885 and two years later, in January 1887, a festival of his music was held.
WorksOrchestral symphony in D minor (1886–88); symphonic poems, Les Éolides (1876), Le Chasseur maudit (after Burger; 1882), Psyché (with chorus; 1887–88); Les Djinns (1884) and Variations symphoniques for piano and orchestra (1885).
Choral with orchestra (some with solo voices): Rédemption (1874), Les Béatitudes (1879), Rébecca (1881), Psalm 10l; Paris: chant patriotique for tenor and orchestra; Messe solennelle for bass and organ (1858); Mass for three voices, organ, harp, cello, and double bass (1860); three motets, three offertories, and other small sacred vocal works.
Chamber piano quintet (1879), string quartet; sonata for violin and piano (1886).
Keyboard and songs about 16 works for piano, including Prélude, Choral et Fugue (1884) and Prélude, Aria et Final (1886–87); nine works for organ, including six Pièces pour grand orgue (1862).