French composer, organist and teacher César Franck (1822–90) was a leading figure in French musical life of the second half of the 19th century.
Franck was born in Liège. He exhibited early ability at the piano and in 1830 enrolled at the Liège Conservatory. In 1835 the family moved to Paris; after naturalization in 1837 Franck entered the Paris Conservatoire. Franck abandoned a career as a piano virtuoso around the time of the failure of his oratorio Ruth in 1845, and became a teacher and, from 1847, organist at Notre Dame de Lorette. In 1851 he was appointed organist of St Jean-St François in the Marais, and his prodigious skill at improvisation became famed. However, it was not until his 1858 appointment as organist of Ste Clotilde that a new phase in his life began, leading to his first major work Six pièces (1856–64). In 1871 he was appointed professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his lessons became informal composition seminars to faithful pupils who termed themselves the bande à Franck. His oratorio Les Béatitudes (1869–79) and the symphonic poem Les Eolides (1875–6) preceded a period of intense creativity that lasted until his death. A reawakened interest in the piano led to the Piano Quintet (1879) and Variations symphoniques (1885), with other major works including the Violin Sonata (1886), Trois chorals (1890) and his Symphony (1886–8). In 1886 he was elected president of Société Nationale de Musique.
Franck made arguably the most distinguished contribution of any French musician to symphonic, chamber and keyboard works; but he should also be remembered for the valuable influence he had as a teacher, his pupils including D’Indy, Dukas, Duparc and Vierne.