Let's say "Jean Francaix"

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Thursday, August 9, 2018

Today’s we tackle a vexing P.C. issue—not “political correctness,” mind you, but “pronunciation correctness,” a passionate matter for classical radio announcers, of course. Now there was a French composer who lived from 1912 to 1997 whose first name was Jean and whose last name was spelled “F-R-A-N- C cedilla-A-I-X.”

Most people today pronounce his name “Jean Frahn-SAY,” which has come to be the generally accepted and recognized pronunciation. The problem is that the composer’s family and close friends pronounced it “Frahn-SEX.”

Years ago, an announcer at a station in New York wrote the composer himself requesting the definitive P.C. answer, and was told, yes, technically it was “Frahn-SEX,” but that he was used to being called "Frahn-SAY" and had given up correcting people, joking that perhaps “Frahn-SAY” sounded more French, or maybe people just didn’t want to say “SEX” out loud.

This witty French composer grew up in musical family in Les Mans and claimed that by the age of twelve, he knew all the piano music from Scarlatti to Ravel. At eighteen, he won the First Prize in Piano from the Paris Conservatory and studied composition with Nadia Boulanger, the legendary teacher of many American composers ranging from Copland to Philip Glass.

Both Jean Frahn-SEX and Jean Frahn-SAY were very prolific composers of works large and small, including this delightful Symphony in G Major, which premiered on today’s date in 1953 at the summer music festival in La Jolla, California.