Composer. His fame rests on "Faust" (1859), probably the most successful French opera of the 19th Century. Loosely based on the play by Johann von Goethe, it emphasizes the doomed love affair between Faust, a scholar who has sold his soul to the devil, and Marguerite. Despite dramatic weaknesses, it remains surefire opera because of the catchy lyricism of such numbers as "The Jewel Song," the rousing "Soldier's Chorus," and the lilting "Kermesse Waltz." The popularity of "Faust" was such that in 50 years it received over 2000 performances in Paris alone. England's Queen Victoria had parts of it sung for her on her deathbed. In 1883 "Faust" was selected to open the new Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, and Gounod's name was carved above the theatre's proscenium. Only in Germany, where it was considered a travesty of Goethe, was the opera seldom heard. Gounod's reputation has dimmed considerably since then, but he is still important for helping to free French music theatre from the bloated traditions of Grand Opera. Gounod was born in Paris. After just three years at the Paris Conservatory he won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1839, which took him on a further course of study in Italy. There he composed religious music under the influence of Palestrina and considered entering the priesthood. A chance meeting with singer Pauline Viardot inspired him to write his first opera, "Sapho" (1851). With the exception of "Faust" and "Romeo et Juliette" (1867), none of Gounod's 15 operas had lasting success. From 1870 to 1875 he lived in England. He ended his career as he began it, with religious music. Gounod's "Ave Maria" (1854) is well-known, as is his droll "Funeral March for a Marionette" (1872), which became famous as the theme music for tv's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
Bio by: Bobb Edwards
François Louis Gounod