Born in Paris in 1818, Charles Gounod was a French composer who became prominent through his operas. Most noted for Faust (1852), he also composed many others such as Roméo et Juliette (1867) and La Colombe (1860; The Dove).
While known primarily for these operas, he also composed cantatas, oratorios, and masses. Among one of his most famous non-operatic works is the “Ave Maria.” While these famous works are widely known, other facts about the French composer are not. Here are five things you may not know about Charles Gounod:
- His musical gifts were largely due to the teachings of his mother, who was a pianist. During his childhood and before he entered school, Gounod was taught music by his mother. When he was old enough to begin school, his musical talents became obvious.
- His first opera was Rossini’s Otello. Later in this same year, Gounod would attend Mozart’s Don Giovanni and become particularly influenced by the work. Mozart remained a constant admiration for Gounod throughout his life.
- While studying in Paris, he primarily studied theology, expecting to become a priest. Born in Saint-Cloud, a town near Paris, Gounod earned a degree in Philosophy. Afterwards he moved to Paris. He studied music with Anton Reicha, but spent most of his time in Paris studying theology and soon entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice. He then decided a priestly lifestyle was not for him and returned to music, specifically to the composition of operas.
- Out of many operas based of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Gounod’s opera has become the most popular in the operatic repertory. Romeo and Juliet has influenced many different types of music, but Gounod’s opera became a hit like no other musical version of the story. (Listen to pieces from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from the Royal Wallonie Opera Orchestra and Chorus and .)
- In 1888, Gounod was made a grand officier of the Legion of Honour, France’s highest decoration of merit. Established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the Legion of Honour is a merit-based order for persons of high qualifications. Gounod’s conferment into the order shows his stature as a musician and operatic composer. For more information, view Charles Gounod’s timeline.
Watch an excerpt of a performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette from the Salzburg Festival: