César Franck (1822–1890) was a key figure in 19th-century French music. For over three decades he was organist of St Clotild church and a professor at the Conservatoire. He is widely considered to be one of the creators of French symphonic music, owing in particular to his Symphony in D minor (1886–1888). The work received its premi?re on 17 February 1889, with Junes Garcin conducting the Conservatoire orchestra. Franck’s music does not have a specific poetic programme; it is simply a “classical symphony” where the music of all three movements can be traced back to versions of a single motif.
The opening slow passage in the sonata-form first movement is not an introduction but the first part of a two-faced main theme, followed by a fast second part based on the same material. This is repeated in the F minor key, and the second subject includes a melodious and a bright, hymnic theme. Opening with a cor anglais solo, the second movement combines the slow and scherzo movement of a classical symphony in a five-part rondo form. The cheerful D-major opening theme of the third movement is reminiscent of the love tune in Les preludes. Again the construction follows the sonata form, and the music integrates the material of the previous movement, creating a kind of summary of the symphony.