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Summary Article: Gounod, Charles François
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

French composer and organist. His operas, notably Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867), and church music, including Messe solennelle/Solemn Mass (1849), combine graceful melody and elegant harmonization. His Méditation sur le prélude de Bach/Meditation on Bach's ‘Prelude’ (1889) for soprano and instruments, based on Prelude No. 1 of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, achieved popularity as ‘Gounod's Ave Maria’.

Gounod was born in Paris, the son of a painter. His mother, a good pianist, taught him music from an early age and he was educated at the Lycée Saint-Louis and at the Paris Conservatory, where his masters included Jacques Halévy, Ferdinando Paër, and Jean Lesueur. In 1839 he won the Prix de Rome and spent the statutory three years in Rome, studying early Italian church music; his interest in this music culminated in the elaborate Messe solennelle de Ste Cécile (1855). After a tour in Austria and Germany he returned to Paris and was appointed organist at the church of the Missions Étrangères. Intending to become a priest, he did not produce any important music until his opera Sapho appeared in 1851. From 1852 to 1860 he conducted the united choral societies named Orphéon. His five-act setting of Faust for the Paris Opéra in 1859 brought his melodic gift before a huge public and Gounod became the most popular opera composer of his time; his success was consolidated by a saccharine but effective version of Romeo and Juliet. While living in London, England, in 1870–75, he founded what later became the Royal Choral Society.

WorksStage operas Sapho (1851), La Nonne sanglante (1854), Le Médecin malgré lui (after Molière, 1858), Faust (after Goethe, 1859), Philémon et Baucis (1860), La Reine de Saba (1862), Mireille (after Mistral; 1864), La Colombe, Roméo et Juliette (after Shakespeare, 1867), Cinq-Mars (after Alfred de Vigny; 1877), Polyeucte (after Corneille, 1878), Le Tribut de Zamora (1881); incidental music for Ponsard's Ulysse, Legouvé's Les Deux Reines, and Barbier's Jeanne d'Arc.

Sacred music oratorios La Rédemption (1868–81), Mors et Vita (1885), Tobie; eight cantatas; 16 Masses, Requiem (1895), Stabat Mater, Te Deum, De profundis, Ave verum corpus, Pater noster, Magnificat and other sacred vocal pieces.

Other two symphonies (1855–56); some piano compositions including the Funeral March for a Marionette; Méditation sur le prélude de Bach for soprano, violin, piano, and organ (1889); some smaller choral works; many songs.


Gounod, Charles François

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