César Franck: Panis Angelicus

The Belgian-born but ultimately French composer César Franck wrote some glorious music, brimming with inventive, intoxicating melodies.

From the sunny Violin Sonata in A to the intricate Variations Symphoniques for piano and orchestra, any journey through Franck’s music is deeply rewarding. And yet, he’s far and away remembered for this one piece of music, Panis Angelicus, which has been recorded hundreds of times and is still performed frequently the world over.

The melodic line is sung by a solo tenor, accompanied by a relatively reserved organ and sedate string chords. Although known primarily as a stand-alone piece, Panis Angelicus was also included by Franck within his Mass for Three Voices. However, Panis Angelicus was completed in 1872 – twelve years after the Mass – so its inclusion was a rather belated affair.

Like his fellow French composer Gabriel Fauré, César Franck was a precociously talented child, adept not just at composition but also as a concert pianist. His particularly demanding father placed considerable pressure on the young composer, urging him to teach alongside his studies. Despite the pressure from his father, the young César wasn’t dissuaded from following a musical path in later life. And for that, we can be truly thankful.

Recommended Recording

Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge; Andrew Nethsingha (conductor). Chandos: CHSA 5085.