Charles Gounod

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Gounod, Charles


Born June 17, 1818, in Paris; died Oct. 18, 1893, in St. Cloud, a suburb of Paris. French composer. Member of the Institut de France (1866).

Gounod’s father was an artist, and his mother taught music. He took lessons in music theory from A. Reicha. During 1836–38 he studied counterpoint and fugues with J. F. Halévy and composition with J. F. Lesueur and F. Paer at the Paris Conservatory. In 1839 he won the Grand Prix de Rome for the cantata Fernand. This gave him the opportunity to spend three years in Italy and some time in Germany. Beginning in 1845, Gounod held the post of organist and later choirmaster at one of the churches in Paris for several years. From 1852 to 1860 he was the director of the Parisian choral society Orphéon. Between 1870 and 1875 he lived in London, where he founded the Gounod Choir (now the Royal Choral Society).

Gounod is the most outstanding representative of the French school of lyric opera. His masterpiece is the opera Faust, based on the tragedy by Goethe. (It was first staged at the Théâtre-Lyrique in 1859, and it was performed in 1869 at the Grand Opera Theater with recitatives instead of spoken dialogues and with the ballet scene “Walpurgis Night.”) Gounod’s Faust has won worldwide recognition. His best operas are distinguished by their realistic depiction of the feelings and experiences of the protagonists and by a subtle psychological revelation of their spiritual world. The lyric opera created by Gounod is characterized by sincerity and heartfelt simplicity of melodies, which are saturated with phrases from urban folk song and dance, as well as by dynamic contrasts in the dramatic writing, realistic depiction of scenes from everyday life, and exquisite harmony and instrumentation.

Gounod wrote 14 operas, two of which remained unfinished. Among them are Sapho (1850), Le Médecin malgré lui (1857), Philāmon et Baucis (1859), La Reine de Saba (1861), and Romeo and Juliet (1865). He also wrote cantatas, including Gallia. Gounod wrote music for several plays, including Molière’s Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Pon-sard’s Ulysses, and Barbier’s Jeanne d’Arc, and he composed many religious pieces, especially masses and requiems. He was the composer of orchestral works, including two symphonies, and art songs, songs, and piano pieces.

Gounod’s work had an appreciable influence on many French composers, including Bizet, Massenet, and Delibes. He also wrote on musical subjects.


“Ascanio” de Saint-Saëns. Paris, 1890.
Le “Don Juan” de Mozart. Paris, 1890.
Mémoires d’un artiste, 3rd ed. Paris, 1896. In Russian translation: Zapiski artista. St. Petersburg [1904]. Vospominaniia artista. Moscow, 1962.


Frantsuzskaia muzyka vtoroi poloviny XIX veka: Sb. perevodnykh rabot. Edited by M. S. Druskin. Moscow, 1938.
Prod’homme, J. G., and A. Dandelot. Gounod (1818–1893), vols.1–2. Paris, 1911.