Foreword by Klauspeter Bungert

Lauded by experts, unfamiliar to the public, mostly incomprehensibly rendered by performers – this is the fate of César Franck’s string quartet on the music scene almost 130 years after its premiere. Breath-taking speeds and a lack of subtle changes in tempo cause bewilderment to the listener, as Richard Wagner observed in his work On Conducting
Reason enough for someone who seeks to become a Franck expert to try repeatedly to decipher the score. A powerful and then again tender and touching leviathan emerged. Many years after my first encounter with the work, two transcriptions are now available: one for piano and one for full symphony orchestra. The orchestral version, which is published here, aims to clearly present the implied structure of the work, its vibrancy and its diversity, and to remove the substantial difficulties which hamper a listener-friendly reworking of the original.
In the transfer of the string sections into the orchestral score, all the dynamic indications from the original were carried over. However, few suggestions regarding the phrasing and articulation were retained. Musicians generally strictly follow bowing indications. This must frequently have been the reason for the overly brief and hasty performance of the quartet.

The monumental character of Franck’s art calls for a general elevation in volume in the dynamics, but, in contrast, in the recital tempo a clear deceleration and broadening. Its excessive expression demands agogic changes far beyond the extent of discreet suggestion. Every feature, every emphasis and every individual action must be clearly carved out without obscuring the relationship to the whole.
If I subsequently refer to the metronome, in spite of Franck’s aversion to the use of strict metronome indications, I do not do this to impose a new tyranny of the metronome, but, on the contrary, to stimulate an unusually free and imaginative performance of the piece. In the recalculation process, I have indicated the tempo of my recording of the piano version, as far as I could, in numerical values. This recording expresses my ideas about the course of the work and can be regarded as a working basis. It comes to 23 minutes for the first, 9 for the second, 13 for the third and 24 minutes for the fourth movement. Together with the small pauses between the movements the version presented here comes to a total of 70 minutes (compared to a maximum of 48 in the quartet recordings!).

Some of the sections which traditionally tend to be particularly rushed, such as the Allegro or Scherzo’s semiquaver rising sequence in the opening theme, have been assigned to instruments which a priori require more time than strings for their tonal development.

As regards the performance directions in the piece, I presented the following in my monograph César Franck  die Musik und das Denken (César Franck – His music and thinking) [i]

Tempo indications at the beginning of the movement are not binding for its entirety, but are to be understood freely and expressively. Changes in expression must be taken into account along with changes in tempo. The term „a tempo“ does not mean the „first tempo“, but the beginning of a new tempo section, a new stage.

Dynamic indications, such as crescendo, decrescendo as well as ritardando, rallentando, largamente, allargando should be powerfully expressed, functional, and not just decorative. They are generally to be observed until the next section. Only shading nuances, on the other hand, should be complemented by the players continuously throughout the piece. Persistence of directions is the rare exception.

“Molto” and “poco” modifiers to tempo-changing and dynamic-changing indications mean: in the case of “molto” an abrupt crescendo, diminuendo, accelerando, ritardando, and where “poco” appears initially subtle and only towards the end a pronounced crescendo, diminuendo, accelerando, ritardando.

The dynamic extremes should never been annulled. For reasons of tonal substance and clarity of the various parts, however, a minimum level of volume should be observed in the pianissimo area.

All parts should be contoured and soloistically phrased. In support of Franck’s polyphony, instruments are combined in the orchestral version, which, due to their expressive sound, prevent the paradoxical neglect of the individual voices by the quartets.

Franck’s orchestral scores show on average more parts than most of the symphonists before 1900, but do not break records. Their extreme dynamics are, in many cases, met with a copious string section, but, unfortunately, the wind parts penetrate too little.

My orchestration comprises the following instruments:

2 flutes, 1 alto flute (2nd alternates with piccolo)
2 oboes, 1 cor anglais
2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet
4 bassoons
3 saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor). These have been replaced for practical reasons in this score by an E-flat clarinet, a second cor anglais and alto trombone. The original saxophone voices are available.
4 horns
2 trumpets
2 cornets
3 trombones
1 tuba
pedal timpani
tubular bells
strings (ideally at least 16-16-12-12-8)

Doubling in the woodwind instruments sections, at least in the first flute and piccolo, are advisable also, for example, in the horns and trumpets.

The listener must have the opportunity to follow the development of the different parts at all times and to comprehend the universe of Franck’s master composition, which is based entirely on allusions to a three bar proto-melody presented at the very beginning. The three bar proto-melody consists of the following trinity of elements developing from each other: the triad, a partial scale and sequencing of the same interval.

The theologically motivated composer may have wanted to depict – if speculation be allowed – God’s mark on nature. The proto-melody is cited recurringly, but hardly acts as the starting point of a rhythmic-motif development. It could be a symbol for the divine primal power, which hidden – in all parts simultaneously – gives birth to forms and all their variations. After the composer has observed with awe the richness of nature, his longing is awakened to recognise a personality behind this power. The personality is withdrawn. The search takes on ever more urgent, strong as well as aggressive traits. The personality remains secret. The short ending derives from the selfironic realisation of a God-seeking man who pretends to comprehend something which he cannot grasp.

The performance tempi based on my own piano version

1st movement:
Bar 1 / Poco lento: on average 48-49, starting with 49-50 (Time till bar 80: 6:18); 81 / Allegro: on average 95-96, starting with 109 (to 172: 10:13); 173 / Poco lento: on average 50-51, starting with 48 (217: 13:31); 218 / Allegro: 83-84, starting with 100 (to 270: 16:00); 271: on average 88-89, starting with 92-93 (to 339: 19:14); 340 / Poco lento: on average 34-35, starting with 80
Duration of movement: 23:05

2nd movement:
1 / Vivace: starting with 180 (to 54: 0:59); 55: starting with 154 (to 170: 3:17); 171: starting with 144, in places decreasing to 80 (to 271: 5:51); 272 bis 366: on average 155, starting with 180 (to 366: 7:34); 367: starting with 162, reducing to 85
Duration of movement: 9:00

3rd movement:
1 / Larghetto: on average 85 ( 42-43), starting with 38 (to 102: 7:32); 103: 55-56, later decreasing again to 38-39 (to 150: 10:32); 151: 39-40, to 77 in bar 168, then reducing to 55-56 in bar 184
Duration of movement: 13:04

4th movement:
(58: Duration of the introduction: 2:13); 59: starting with 110-111, later a maximum of 120, in the quieter sections decreasing to 62 (to 281: 7:08); 282: starting with 91-92, later a maximum of 112, in the quieter sections decreasing/reducing to 68-69 ( 34-35; to 505: 13:00); 506: starting with 106-107, later a maximum of 114, reducing to 36 in the quieter sections (to 704: 17:41); 705: starting with 88-89, later a maximum of 94, in the quieter sections decreasing/reducing to 30 (to 748: 19:00); 749: starting with 74; 784: rall.; 785: 60; 844: even broader; 854: 26-27; 857: 48; 859: 25 ( 12-13 ); 860: 70 ( 35-36 ); 864: 44; 866: 34; 868: 148; 876: 109
Duration of movement: 24:02

Klauspeter Bungert; Trier August 2016 / 5 May 2017

download the score

[i] Klauspeter Bungert: CÉSAR FRANCK – DIE MUSIK UND DAS DENKEN. Das Gesamtwerk, neubetrachtet für Hörer, Wissenschaftler und ausübende Musiker. Mit einer allgemeinen Erörterung zum Ineinandergreifen von Form und klingendem Satz. (CÉSAR FRANCK – HIS MUSIC AND THINKING. The complete work, reconsidered for the listeners, academics and performing musicians. With a general discussion on the interdependence of form and composition technique.) Peter Lang-Verlag, Frankfurt – Bern 1996. Extended second online edition, Trier 2012. See also: Klauspeter Bungert: Nicht immer stand Richard Wagner Pate. Eine etwas andere Sicht auf Komponisten der ‘zweiten Reihe’, gezeigt am Beispiel César Francks. Luxemburger Wort / Die Warte vom 7.Juli 2016 (Klauspeter Bungert: Richard Wagner was not always the model. A slightly different view of composers of the second tier, shown by the example of César Franck).