César Franck 200th Birthday Concert set for St. Joseph

DANBURY—An international 200th birthday celebration for Catholic composer César Franck will be hosted at St. Joseph Church in Danbury.

César-Auguste Jean-Guillaume Hubert Franck was born on December 10, 1822 and in honor of his contributions to the music world, especially his compositions for the Catholic Church, the 90-minute concert will be held on Saturday, December 10 starting at 7:30 pm. All are welcome.

Father Samuel Scott, pastor of St. Joseph’s, was introduced to Franck’s work through his piano and organ teachers during his grammar-school years. Recently, St. Joseph’s organist, Robert Fertitta, an accomplished musician who came out of retirement to lead the Robinson Avenue church congregation in their music ministry, was practicing a work by Franck and the idea for a concert to celebrate the composer on his 200th birthday was born.

“César Franck’s music is uplifting any time of year, but this year on the day of Franck’s 200th birthday, Mr. Fertitta is offering a grand tribute to his memory,” Father Scott said. “This musical offering is not a Christmas concert, but it is a wonderful gift to our community.”

Fertitta noted Franck’s faith was instrumental to his compositions.

“Franck was a very devout Catholic all his life,” Fertitta said. “He was responsible for advancements and innovations of the organ to this day.”

Fertitta, who received his education at The City University of New York where he studied musicology with a specialization in music analysis, said while he was planning for the concert, he discovered works by Franck that he previously had not heard.

“They are total masterpieces,” he said. “They are based on French poetry. They are secular rather than sacred. I never knew they existed until this year. What a thrill to add those songs to my life.”

Fertitta decided he did not want to only showcase organ pieces, but wanted to complement them with a selection of piano pieces and a cantor. Franck was one of the few master composers who wrote significantly for both organ and solo piano.

Included in Fertitta’s selections will be the well-known Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Panis Angelicus and other major works.

Parishioners may have heard some of the pieces during prayerful times at the church while Fertitta was practicing.

“There will be lots of variety,” he said, adding he wants all in attendance to come away with an appreciation for Franck’s music. “I want them to want to hear more Franck and go to YouTube and explore Franck’s music and enrich their lives and souls,” said Fertitta, noting Franck’s contemporaries are towering names such as Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

“His music is captivating,” Fertitta said. “It’s exuberance, to pathos, to poignant lyricism and everything in between.”

Father Scott agreed.

“We will stand back in awe as Mr. Fertitta, a distinguished musician, expands our acoustical horizons beyond the usual repertoire of Franck’s compositions and helps us celebrate a master organist of the Basilica of St. Clotilde, located on the Rue Las Cases in Paris, where Franck reigned for 32 years,” he said. “I think people will come away with a greater music appreciation for a great Catholic composer of the 19th century.”