He concentrated on religious music of the sixteenth century. Gounod eventually returned to Paris and composed the "Messe Solennelle", also known as the "Saint Cecilia Mass". This work was first performed in London during 1851 and began his reputation as a noteworthy composer. He wrote two symphonies in 1855. His Symphony No.1 in D major was the inspiration for Georges Bizet's (who was then Gounod's 17 year old student) Symphony No. 1 in C, composed later that same year.
Despite their charm and brilliance, Gounod's symphonies are seldom performed. One of the few recordings of the symphonies was made by Sir Neville Mariner. Caricature from Punch, 1882.Gounod wrote his first opera, Sappho, in 1851, but had no great success until Faust (1859), based on the play by Goethe. This remains his best-known work. The romantic and highly melodious Roméo et Juliette (based on the Shakespeare play), premiered in 1867, is also performed and recorded regularly.
The charming and highly individual Mireille of 1864 is admired by connoisseurs. There is some controversy surrounding "Faust". Many critics believed it was a far advancement over Gounod's prior works. One critic stated his doubt that Gounod composed it, which prompted Gounod to challenge the critic to a duel. The critic withdrew his statement.
 From 1870 to 1875 Gounod lived in England, becoming the first conductor of what is now the Royal Choral Society. Much of Gounod's music from this time is vocal or choral in nature. He wrote much chamber music, composing four string quartets. Later in his life, Gounod returned to his early religious impulses, writing much religious music, including a musical setting of Ave Maria based on the first prelude from Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach and Hymnus Pontificius the anthem of Vatican. In fact, he died as he put the finishing touches to a requiem "Le Grand Requiem" inspired by the death of his grandson, a major work which he was never to hear performed.
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