Like Widor, César Franck (1822–1890) was a Parisian organist, presiding from 1858 until his death at the Cavaillé-Coll organ at Ste-Clotilde. Prélude, Fugue et Variation
, Op 18, the third of his Six Pièces
(1860–62), is dedicated to Saint-Saëns. Coming as it does directly after Franck’s Grande Pièce Symphonique
, Op 17, its title might suggest a contrasting work of neo-Baroque severity, but what could be more Romantic than the haunting oboe melody of the first movement? A typical Franckian theme, moving largely by step and emphasizing particular notes of the scale, it has two limbs, the first a flowing theme of five-bar phrases, the second a dogged affair ascending the scale in four-bar phrases (and taken up in quasi-canonic fashion by the pedals). A short bridge passage introduces the second movement, a sober fugue on a subject, vocal in character, marked cantando. Assisted by stretti, a muted climax is reached, and the music proceeds without a break to the Variation, in which the hautbois, taking the stage again, has the ‘flowing’ and ‘dogged’ themes of the first movement, but here set against rippling semiquavers.
from notes by Relf Clark © 2005