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Charles FranÇois Gounod

(1818 - 1893)

Charles Gounod, born in Paris on June 18, 1818 was the son of a talented but unsuccessful painter who died when Gounod was four. Gounod's mother, also an artist, kept up his father's classes while also giving music lessons.

Gounod displayed a talent in both art and music. He began composing at the age of twelve, and left art in favor of music by the age of thirteen. This decision was prompted in part by a performance of Rossini's Othello that had moved him greatly.

Entering the conservatory in 1836, Gounod was highly successful. He won the coveted Prix de Rome three years later. Gounod developed a keen interest in Rome.

He discovered and began a serious study of 16th century sacred music. The beauty of the sacred music prompted Gounod to lifelong religious interests, and he had difficultly deciding between entering the church and continuing with secular music.

In 1843, Gounod returned to Paris to accept his first position as musical director of the Chapel for Foreign Missions. Still in a state of religious confusion, Gounod entered the Carmelite monastery as a noviate in 1847. Gounod was not entirely suited to the religious profession, and was referred to by some as "the philandering monk."

Gounod acknowledged that opera was the only field that lead to success for a French composer. He began his Operatic debut in 1850 with Sapho. He followed Sapho with several other Operas of lesser distinction.

Gounod married Anna Zimmerman in 1852. With the support of his new father-in-law, the famous pianist Pierre Zimmerman, Gounod secured a prestigious position and the title of Superintendent of Instruction in singing to the Communal Schools of the city of Paris. Relying on the security of this position, Gounod could focus again on his operas.

Gounod began work on Faust  in 1856. While working on Faust , Gounod produced Le Medecin malgré lui  in 1858. This success, followed by the production of Faust  in 1859, earned for Gounod the title of the most famous composer in France. Faust , Gounod's adaptation from Goethe became Gounod's most popular work both in Europe and the United States.

Gounod was to spend the remainder of his lifetime attempting unsuccessfully to produce an opera as well received as Faust . Gounod produced thirteen operas, his favorite opera, La Reinen de Saba (1862,) did not fair well with the critics. Mireille  (1863) and Roméo et Juliette  (1864) were highly praised by European critics, but never enjoyed the popularity of Faust .

In the last years of his life, Gounod returned to religious music. He became very successful in England where he enjoyed a notorious association with Mrs. Georgina Weldon, wife of Captain George Weldon. Gounod moved in with the couple at Tavistock House in England. This association created quite a scandal, of which Gounod eventually tired. He returned to Paris where he died peacefully on October 18, 1893.

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