However untoward the surroundings of Gounod, his genius did not lie altogether dormant during this period of friction and fretfulness, conditions so repressive to the best imaginative work. He composed several masses and other church music; a “Stabat Mater” with orchestra; the oratorio of “Tobie”; “Gallia,” a lamentation for France; incidental music for Legouve’s tragedy of “Les Deux Reines,” and for Jules Barbier’s “Jeanne d’Arc”; a large number of songs and romances, both sacred and secular, such as “Nazareth,” and “There is a Green Hill”; and orchestral works, a “Salterello in A,” and the “Funeral March of a Marionette.”
At last he broke loose from the bonds of Delilah, and, remembering that he had been elected to fill the place of Clapisson in the Institute, he returned to Paris in 1876 to resume the position which his genius so richly deserved. On the 5th of March of the following year his “Cinq-Mars” was brought out at the Theatre de l’Opera Comique; but it showed the traces of the haste and carelessness with which it was written, and therefore commanded little more than a respectful hearing. His last opera, “Polyeucte,” produced at the Grand Opera, October 7, 1878, though credited with much beautiful music, and nobly orchestrated, is not regarded by the French critics as likely to add anything to the reputation of the composer of “Faust.” Gounod, now at the age of sixty, if we judge him by the prolonged fertility of so many of the great composers, may be regarded as not having largely passed the prime of his powers. The world still has a right to expect much from his genius. Conceded even by his opponents to be a great musician and a thorough master of the orchestra, more generous critics in the main agree to rank Gounod as the most remarkable contemporary composer, with the possible exception of Richard Wagner. The distinctive trait of his dramatic conceptions seems to be an imagination hovering between sensuous images and mystic dreams. Originally inspired by the severe Greek sculpture of Gluck’s music, he has applied that master’s laws in the creation of tone-pictures full of voluptuous color, but yet solemnized at times by an exaltation which recalls the time when as a youth he thought of the spiritual dignity of the priesthood. The use he makes of his religious reminiscences is familiarly illustrated in “Faust.” The contrast between two opposing principles is marked in all of Gounod’s dramatic works, and in “Faust” this struggle of “a soul which invades mysticism and which still seeks to express voluptuousness” not only colors the music with a novel fascination, but amounts to an interesting psychological problem.
Gounod’s genius fills too large a space in contemporary music to be passed over without a brief special study. In pursuit of this no better method suggests itself than an examination of the opera of “Faust,” into which the composer poured the finest inspirations of his life, even as Goethe embodied the sum and flower of his long career, which had garnered so many experiences, in his poetic masterpiece.