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8.223476 - TOURNEMIRE: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5

Charles Tournemire (1870 -1939) Symphonies Nos

Charles Tournemire (1870-1939)

Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5


Charles Tournemire was born in Bordeaux in 1870 and died at Arcachon in 1939. For some he may seem to have been a slightly mysterious organist with a reputation for improvisation, yet this master of modern organ music was at the same time a powerful symphonist. Between 1900 and 1924 Tournemire wrote no less than eight symphonies differing in dimension and form, without counting the Poème pour orgue of 1910 and various compositions for chorus and orchestra. As he himself made clear, these eight symphonies were only the preparation for an enterprise of greater scope still, conceived for that other orchestra, the organ. The reference was to L'Orgue mystique, written between 1927 and 1932, a great cycle that covers the liturgical year and consists of fifteen hours of music. After the completion of this, Tournemire only returned to the symphony with the organ in his Symphonie-Choral of 1935 and his Symphonie sacrée the following year.


Tournemire became a pupil of César Franck when that composer was working on his own Symphony in D minor of 1887. The future of this work is well known. It was taken as a model or at least served as an example for Chausson, Magnard, Ropartz, d'Indy, Vierne, Lazzari and others, but none of these composers, not even d'Indy, raised the symphony to the level of importance achieved by Tournemire. It was easy for Debussy to comment ironically on the beaverish activity that dominated these scores constructed on the system of the cyclic transformation of themes. It is true that in France at the turn of the century, parallel to this symphonic fashion, its formalism reinforced by the teaching of the Schola cantorum, orchestral music spread more freely through the ballet, the rhapsody and the symphonic poem.


A pianist and organist by training, organist at the basilica of Sainte-Clotilde with its great Cavaillé-Coll instrument from 1898 until his death, professor of ensemble music at the Paris Conservatoire from 1921, Charles Tournemire, who also left a certain number of chamber music works, nourished his creative flair with a strong religious faith, finding himself in the exalted catholicism that inspired the prose of Ernest Hello and Léon Bloy. Furthermore, he was, through his first marriage, brother-in-law of the Sâr Joséphin Péladan, who re- established the Rosicrucian movement. Tournemire's musical testament is based on a text by Péladan, a lyric drama with the title II poverello di Assisi, written some weeks before his death. The Franciscan ideal marked above all the last ten years of his creative life, just as the aesthetic mysticism of César Franck dominated the period of his symphonies. This mysticism remained attached to the image of the redemptive process of the Man, who, in the obscurity of his condition, aspires to the accomplishment of his destiny through the revelation of the divine light. In the symphonies of Tournemire the evocation of the presence of nature plays a religious rôle in the etymological sense of the word, binding man to the divine, when it does not represent the divine itself, as in the Fifth Symphony. This appears in the music in a carefully elaborated structure that brings a tonal progression and an antithesis symbolical, as it were, of the progress from darkness to clarity, a progression for which the cyclical process is particularly well suited. From the point of view of expression, properly speaking, the eloquence of the very lyrical symphonic dialogue oscillates between the epic and the tranquilly contemplative. Tournemire was a self-confessed romantic. The hostility that he showed towards the modernising tendencies in the music of his time arose from ethical considerations: for this champion of the Ideal, the only valid work was that which tended to the glory of God. For this reason it is easier to understand how, opposed to Ravel, to the school of Vienna and to Les Six, he encouraged the young Olivier Messiaen. He was led, through his rejection of modern trends, to form a personal musical language, above all in his harmonic writing. This language, imbued with the chromaticism of César Franck, absorbed only very gradually certain elements of the twentieth century, such as atonality, polytonality, Indian modes and so on, while proving more immediately receptive to the art of Debussy. As an orchestrator he was the heir of Berlioz and Wagner, but his attention to detail even with a sonority rich in its bass and its doublings, preserves the transparency that characterizes French music of the period. Tournemire's orchestral palette was based on a wide scale of timbres, grouped or divided according to the musical ideas in relation to the philosophical argument or the programme that underpins the carefully planned structure of a work. His scoring, therefore, includes instruments seldom used in the orchestra, such as the lute, the oboe d'amore or the saxophone. Although he does not orchestrate like an organist, he still remembers his own instrument, making remarkable use of it in the third, fourth and sixth of his symphonies.


The literary connection, size and particular technical qualities of Tournemire's symphonies have induced the few that have seen the scores to recall the work of Gustav Mahler. Such a comparison needs justification, but there are certainly points in common, apart from any consideration of the works as a whole. Mahler, after all, found it necessary to support his musical discourse with philosophical argument. We know from his letters that Tournemire knew some of Mahler's symphonies and that he acknowledged that composer's lofty aspirations, but the aesthetic and cultural tradition to which he belonged prevented him recognising any personal affinity with this music, although he may have been influenced by it sometimes, principally in orchestration.


Contrary to w hat might be supposed, Charles Tournemire was not completely unknown as a symphonist in his life-time, although he himself never heard all of his symphonies. In Holland in particular, before 1930, they enjoyed some real if ephemeral success, supported by his reputation as an organist and master of improvisation. The relative social isolation in which Tournemire spent the last years of his life, the fact that he died at the beginning of the war in 1939 and musical tendencies after 1945 tended to disregard the Wagner-Franck tradition, brought Tournemire, as it were, a second death.


Like the Fourth Symphony of Anton Bruckner, Tournemire's First Symphony in A major, Opus 18, has been given the subtitle romantic. Written in 1900, it is dedicated to the violinist and conductor Paul Viardot and was performed at the Concerts classiques in Marseilles on 10th March 1901, before its first performance in Paris on 6th May 1902 at the Société nationale de musique, on both occasions under the direction of the composer.


The formal conception of the work is directly influenced by Franck and it is traditional by comparison with the symphonies that follow. The orchestration, which finds an important place for the solo violin, already marks the tendency of Tournemire to distinguish individual timbres in the whole orchestra. The first of the four movements is an Andante, marked avec mystère (with mystery), bringing out at once in the bass the cyclic theme of the work, characterized by two leaps of a rising fifth. This introduction leads to an energetic Allegro moderato, its development prepared by a return to the material of the introduction. The playful sonority of the scherzo Allegro spiritoso is coloured by the introduction of the harps. The slow movement is a Largo, in the speed of a funeral march, transfiguring the cyclic theme. As in the first movement, the solo violin adds brilliance to the final Allegro energico, with its syncopated rhythm, associating the cyclic theme with various episodes, spirited or relaxed in mood.


The composition of the Fifth Symphony in F minor, Opus 47, took place in two stages, the first in August 1913 in Switzerland, at the foot of the Saint-Gothard, and the second during the following summer at Thônes in Haute-Savoie, where the final double bar-line was written on 31st July, three days before the declaration of war. The work, which Tournemire dedicated to his wife, draws its inspiration from the mountains and combines this with the objective element of one of the favourite forms of the composer, the chorale, a subjective argument based on the idea of ascent towards the light. By coincidence Richard Strauss was working at the same time on his Alpine Symphony, in which the idea of ascent takes very much more concrete form. The first movement of the Fifth Symphony is in the form of chorale variations, the theme of which, announced by the woodwind, appears throughout the work. A commentary on the score indicates that this chorale with variations is inspired by the Alpine landscape, in which human anguish finds a powerful echo. The re-appearances of the chorale theme are separated by variations that alternate, slow-fast-slow-fast.


The second movement has two parts. First a pastorale that allows a delicate exploitation of the woodwind. Musically, the composer tells us, it is a Lied that is developed and is of a mystical character, exalting all the poetry of the mountain in its most intimate manifestations, where the smallest flower is a whole world, singing of the glory of the Eternal: all is peaceful and the heart is moved by the sounds of nature. The second part has the title Vers la lumière (Towards the light). There is a joyful round-dance where the theme of the chorale and of the pastorale join together, rising towards the heights in a great burst of sound, precursor of the celebrations of Heaven.


The Fifth Symphony was most often played in Tournemire's life-time. The first complete performance was at the Hague with the orchestra of the Concerts Diligentia under the direction of the composer on 10th March 1920. In France Gabriel Pierné, who had heard the first movement in 1918, directed a first performance with the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne at the Châtelet on 7th January 1923.


Joël-Marie Fauquet

(English version by Keith Anderson)


Moscow Symphony Orchestra


The Moscow symphony Orchestra was established in 1989 and is under the direction of the distinguished French musician Antonio de Almeida. The members of the orchestra include prize-winners and laureates of International and Russian music competitions, graduates of the conservatories of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, who have played under conductors such as Svetlanov, Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky and Ozawa, in Russia and throughout the world. The orchestra toured in 1991 to Finland and to England, where collaboration with a well known rock band demonstrated readiness for experiment. A British and Japanese commission has brought a series of twelve television programmes for international distribution and in 1993 there was a highly successful tour of Spain. The Moscow symphony Orchestra has a wide repertoire, with particular expertise in the performance of contemporary works.


Antonio de Almeida


Antonio de Almeida enjoys a distinguished career as a conductor, having appeared with the Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco orchestras in America, and the Berlin Philharmonic, and the London and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras. He has to his credit a number of award-winning recordings, including a recent release of the major orchestral works of Joaquín Turina and an earlier recording of original unedited overtures and ballet music by Offenbach, a composer on whom he is acknowledged to be the leading authority today. His work on behalf of French music has brought him, among other distinctions, the award of the Légion d'honneur. Born in France, Antonio de Almeida studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University and started his career as a conductor with the Oporto Symphony Orchestra in Portugal, later making his London début at the invitation of Sir Thomas Beecham with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. For Marco Polo he has recorded works by Glazunov, Malipiero, Sauguet and Tournemire.


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