Accessibility links

|

Sign In
Basket
Basket

Charles-François Gounod

Biography

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.

News and features

10 of opera's greatest bass roles

28 April 2017
10 of opera's greatest bass roles

From dastardly demons to boozy brothel owners – we give the low-down on opera’s best bass roles.

Girls being boys being girls: a short history of opera’s trouser roles

11 January 2017
Girls being boys being girls: a short history of opera’s trouser roles

Lovesick teens, feisty young heroes, or supernatural beings – there's an important place for women playing men (then dressing up as women again?) in opera.

How to Stage an Opera: Faust and the 19th Century

22 April 2014
How to Stage an Opera: Faust and the 19th Century

How the vernacular of Gounod’s era makes the work anything but trivial.