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Generally speaking, the further we get away, in history, from the lives of even the greatest composers, we “know” them through fewer and fewer works. As an example, Mozart wrote 626 works. Even though the average music lover may indeed love Mozart, the odds are pretty high that he only knows a fraction of Mozart’s works, and perhaps a small fraction at that. These two factors—the more a composer wrote and the further back in time his life occurred–can be real roadblocks in fully knowing a composer.

I am only bringing this up because I am posting the Violin Sonata of Cesar Franck today. Franck was a very-known and highly respected French musician of the 19th century. He lived from 1822 to 1890. He had been born in Belgium, later studying and then living in Paris. He became known as the greatest organist of his day. He wrote nearly 100 works, representing all major genres—opera, orchestral, piano, organ, chamber, many songs, and sacred works. Many of his works are highly exciting, full of the richest harmony. Yet, we know him today, essentially, from just a handful of works:

• Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue for solo piano (MIL #109)
• Symphony in D Minor
• Panus Angelicus, a hymn setting for tenor
• Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra
• Violin Sonata in A Major

We should, of course, be very glad indeed that we have and know all that we DO have and know of Franck. My guess would be that in another hundred or two hundred years, this Violin Sonata may be THE work of Franck that survives in the collective musical imagination. The Violin Sonata is not just one of Franck’s greatest works, it is also one of THE great violin sonatas. It was written when Franck was 63 as a wedding present for the 31-year old Eugene Ysaye, the Belgian violinist, composer, and conductor. It is a work that is central in the repertoire of all violinists.

The work is written in four movements, and features something called “thematic transformation” in which the composer transplants themes used in previous movements into later ones, “transformed” in some way. The piano part is especially difficult—Franck himself was not only a formidable organist, but his skills as pianist were virtuosic. As you will hear, the work is as much a performance challenge for the pianist as the violinist.

I first played the Franck Sonata with a roommate at Juilliard, who studied with the great Dorothy Delay—THE violin teacher of the last half of the twentieth century. Needless to say, those are sessions I will never forget.

The fourth and final movement of the Sonata is a real celebration of melodic joy. It is a work that is often used—in violin competitions, for instance—as a standalone work to show off one’s violinistic prowess. In this recording, the French violinist Renaud Capucon performs with the Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili.

Capucon (b. 1976) is a musician who specializes in the performance of chamber music, and has recorded a great number of them to critical acclaim. Buniatishvili (b. 1987) is actually the bigger name of these two musicians. She has performed with orchestras all over the world, and is nearly as well-known for her social activism as she is for her onstage glamour. She is hardly boxed into simply being a classical player, either. Her collaboration with Coldplay on their “Head Full of Dreams” as well as her touring as piano accompanist for Olympic ice skating champions both give an idea of her musical versatility.

There are a number of recordings of the Franck Violin Sonata on YouTube, as might be expected for such a famous work. To my ears, this one is the right combination of forward thrust and romantic singing lines.

Enjoy one of the jewels of the violin repertoire, an elegant piece performed with elegance in an elegant setting.






A friend and reader of my blog asked me a few months ago if or when I would be doing a post on bubblegum music—bubblegum pop, which received a LOT of radio play in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I think she thought I would balk at doing this—perhaps thinking I would feel it was beneath me? But I told her that yes indeed, I would be posting some bubblegum pop—because it IS music I love.

Some of it, anyway.

Bubblegum music was pop music aimed at a particular audience—pre-teens and teenagers. The market was always ripe, the songs were uniformly upbeat, the lyrics only mud-puddle deep, the harmonies were simple and repetitive, production was inexpensive—using assembly-line composition techniques (it they can even be called that), and often unknown—or nearly unknown—performing groups. The lyrics of bubblegum songs often included references to sweet things—sugar, honey, butterscotch, marmalade, anything sweet that could be compared to the experience of first love. Huge, win-win marketing deals were worked out between record producers and cereal and bubblegum manufacturers.

The actual term “bubblegum pop” was the invention of record producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz who—no surprise—produced many of the bubblegum groups. Bubblegum had a nice run in terms of material success, but—alas—instantly faded into history when disco and punk arrived in 1977.

When thinking about the fact that this music was aimed at such a young audience, it is possible that there may be something of a condescending approach to it from some pop music lovers who feel they can only be attracted to more grown-up songs with grown-up lyrics. When thinking that way, though, it is instructive to remember that the most successful—and arguably—ultimately—the best rock band in the world—the Beatles—had fans, in 1964, whose average age was 13, and for their first two years of releasing one hit after another, the Beatles were aiming squarely at this same market: I Want to Hold Your Hand, Do You Want to Know a Secret, Eight Days a Week, etc.

Not that I ever had any qualms about liking (some) bubblegum music. One is attracted to what one is attracted to….

But I AM using the qualifier “some” to say that out of all the bubblegum half-decade of “hits”, only a few really appealed to me. Many did nothing for me at all: the Lemon Pipers “Green Tambourine”, the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “1-2-3 Redlight”, the Ohio Express’s “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy)”, and Bobby Sherman’s “Hey, Little Woman”—all of them top ten songs in their time—did not musically interest me. There just wasn’t enough of a hook.

I should say, before getting into my “top three” bubblegum favorites that there were several groups who overlapped the bubblegum phenomenon and more legitimate serious) pop music. Three of these were the Monkees (“I’m a Believer”), the Cowsills (“The Rain, the Park, and Other Things”), and Tommy James and the Shondells (“Crystal Blue Persuasion”). I have quite a bit to say about their music, and somewhere down the road, plan on doing a separate post for each group.

But for today, it’s pure bubblegum.

My favorite bubblegum song was “Tracy” by the Cuff-Links. The Cufflinks was comprised of studio musicians in the Staten Island, NY area. They were produced by THE bubblegum legend, Ron Dante. Ron Dante not only wrote their songs, including “Tracy”, but he sang all the vocal parts, harmonized, produced, and multi-tracked everything. Not only was “Tracy” his creation, but he also created the fictional bubblegum group, the Archies (see below). Dante was also the award-winning producer for the first nine of Barry Manilow’s albums (!).