César Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, begun in 1886 and premièred in 1889, has long commanded a place of esteem in the
orchestral repertory. It is a textbook example of the composer’s “cyclical” technique, in which themes from the earlier movements reappear in the final movement, giving a sense of unity to a multi-movement work. In his Grande Pièce Symphonique (1862) Franck employed this technique with great success in an original organ composition; one sometimes reads of that piece being an exercise in preparation for the composer’s later writing in large forms. Some conductors have likened Franck’s orchestration to organ registration (no compliment intended), but one is hard pressed to find complaints from the great number of music lovers who count the Symphony in D Minor among their favorites.
Of the organ version by New York City composer and organist Calvin Hampton (1938-1984), the late Marcella Pambrun (who edited and prepared the complete score on her computer in 1990) writes: “Of all the transcriptions Calvin made of piano or orchestral music, this was the only one he wrote out.” Hampton approached his task keeping in mind the primary objective for a convincing arrangement: namely, to create a version entirely idiomatic to the new medium, in this case, the organ. Original instruments known to Franck during his lifetime, forward-looking though they were, resist a full realization of the nuance and kaleidoscopic agility required by music such as this. A monumental work such as the Symphony in D Minor, when considered as a candidate for a viable organ arrangement, should perhaps be regarded as “music of prophecy” — a genre that had to wait for the revolutionary technological developments achieved during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to realize the subtleties inherent in the original.