Now that the thematic "characters" of this symphonic drama have been introduced in parts one, two and three of our six part series on Cesar Franck's epic organ Choral no. 3 in A Minor, let's get to the musical structure itself:, as the narrative unfolds:
We begin with an agitated, busy (almost violently so) theme, which, as we've observed, culminated in a very organistic buildup of sound.
The tense silence (it is one of the loudest silences in the music literature) is broken by a repeat of the same agitated material, in a new key, along with the same crescendo--this time there is a sudden release, an evocation of something far away, and gradually the music subsides. At this point the soprano notes are headed downward (while the pedal bass rises to meet it)--it is the sonic buildup in reverse, both in volume and in the direction of the notes. Keep this in mind--we will hear it again, much later.
Now that that short section has ended, we hear, for the first time, a melodious theme which would likely have been a preexisting chorale (or "hymn") tune (the piece, after all, is called a "Choral(e)") had not Mr. Franck written it himself, an unusual move for a piece with this kind of title.
It is a beautiful, haunting melody, but apparently it is not enough to tame the forces that gave rise to the first theme. Instead of moving to a new place, musically, we start the process over again. The same agitated theme from the beginning takes the floor. It builds again, but not to a climax. Instead we hear:
It is the same pleading melody from before, which does what most of us do when we think no one is listening to us and we have something important to say. It says it louder. Last time the score was marked mezzo forte--this time it is forte.
Now we are going to get a taste of what is to come. The agitated, dramatic figure returns, but this time it seems more frenetic because it has another melodic line with it. That line is almost a slowed down version of the agitated figure itself. (listen)--at least, it has the same melodic profile: It rises and falls similarly, but it is like an echo of the first--late and slow. Mr. Franck has provided his own compositional reverberation.
With the cumulative weight of three large-scale repetitions of the agitated figure surrounding two iterations of the pleading Choral theme, it must be time to develop something new. And, indeed, this is heralded by three more of those grand sonic build-up gestures we discussed in part two. Now the music crescendos to something we hope will be really grand.
I've heard several musicians tell me that they can't stand an unresolved 7th chord. At the risk of seeming like a very bad child, let's see how you get along until Friday, when we discuss the piece's exciting conclusion.
on to part five