Le chasseur maudit

César Franck

Le chasseur maudit

FWV44, M44

About this work

Despite his reputation as an idealistic cultivator of "pure" music, Franck was as desirous of success as any other composer. And success in Paris meant either opera or an exciting orchestral work capable of firing the popular imagination, that is, the symphonic poem. During Franck's last and richest creative period, an inordinate amount of time was given to the composition of two operas, Hulda (1882-1885) and Ghiselle (1889-1890), which, though undone by incredibly mediocre books, contain some of his finest music and which remain almost wholly unknown. The symphonic poem began to take hold among French composers with Saint-Saëns' Le Rouet d'Omphale in 1871, followed by Phaëton (1873) and the enduringly popular Danse macabre (1874). Among Franck's pupils, d'Indy's imposing Wallenstein trilogy was completed the same year, and Franck's Les Éolides followed in 1876. The next three years were given to the completion of his oratorio, Les Béatitudes, with which he was largely preoccupied through the decade 1869-79, and which he considered his masterpiece. That behind him, he dashed off Rebecca, a small oratorio intended to capitalize on the continuing vogue for things Oriental first sparked by Felicien David's Le Désert in 1844.

It was almost certainly Duparc who then turned Franck's attention to Gottfried August Bürger's ballad, Der wilde Jäger, for the subject of his own 1875 tone poem, Lénore, had been taken from another Bürger ballad. Laurence Davies, the eminent critic and author César Franck and His Circle, dismisses Bürger's narrative as "a Lisztian tale of adventure about a Count who defies the Sabbath to go hunting," thus trivializing both its import and its musical suggestiveness which Franck rang into ringing bronze in Le Chasseur maudit. The errant nobleman pursues the hunt with preternatural savagery while committing the same trespasses for which Satan was banished from heaven -- pride, sacrilege, and defiance. From the distant bells to the fury of the hunt and the count's seizure by demons who condemn him to ride the skies throughout eternity, Franck unfolds the tale with the relish of a savvy raconteur who knows how to call to his aid spellbinding melody, viscerally gripping detail, and richly evocative orchestral color. The work was given its premiere at the 132nd concert of the Société National de Musique, Salle Érard on March 31, 1883, conducted by Édouard Colonne, where it shared a program with the tone poem, Viviane (1882), by his pupil, Chausson.