The French composer Charles-François Gounod (1818–93) wrote 12 operas, of which Faust (1859) remains one of the most popular works in the operatic repertory. Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (1867) is also still regularly performed.
Gounod grew up in Paris and as a child studied the piano with his mother. He entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he worked with Fromental Halévy (the composer of the opera La Juive) and Pierre Zimmermann. In 1839 he won the Prix de Rome. His early compositions included sacred works and songs. Gounod wrote his first opera, Sapho, in 1851 at the urging of his friend, the singer Pauline Viardot. While it received some favourable critical attention, it was only with his fourth opera, Faust (1859) that Gounod received both commercial and critical acclaim. Of his later operas, only Roméo et Juliette was successful, though Mireille (1864) still receives performances, particularly in France. Gounod’s later career included a spell in England (1870–74) where he conducted what is now the Royal Choral Society, and became embroiled in a relationship with the amateur soprano Georgina Weldon. His last years were spent in Paris, where he was made a Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur (1888).
Gounod had initially toyed with becoming a Catholic priest, and in his later years wrote a vast amount of sacred music, including the oratorios La Rédemption (1882) and Mors et vita (1884). His best-known sacred work is the motet Ave Maria (1859). His other compositions include songs, piano music, incidental music for plays and two symphonies.
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