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8.223659 - INDY: Tableaux de Voyage / Fantaisie Op. 31
Vincent d’Indy (1851–1931)
The Société Nationale de Musique was set up in 1871, after the French defeat at Sedan. Established on the initiative of César Franck, its president, of Saint-Saëns and of Romain Bussine, the association took as its motto the words “Ars Gallica”, with the declared aim of reviving French musical life, dominated, as it was, by opera, and that not always of the best kind, and of fostering the development of instrumental music. Then twenty years old, Vincent d’Indy joined with enthusiasm in the battle of the Société Nationale, while studying with Franck, his fugue teacher.
These aims, however, did not exclude profound admiration for foreign composers. In 1876 d’Indy attended the first Bayreuth Festival and yielded to the magic of The Ring. More generally he developed a fascination with Germany, German landscape and culture. His symphonic trilogy Wallenstein, a musical preface to three poems by Schiller, is evidence of this.
Little by little the name of Vincent d’Indy became known in musical circles. In 1884 he completed Saugefleurie, one of the finest of his early scores, with the Symphonie Cévenole of 1886 or the Clarinet Trio of the following year. This “legend for orchestra” was first performed at the beginning of the year 1885 by the Concerts Lamoureux. It was inspired by a work of Robert de Bonnières and tells the story of the misfortunes of a little fairy, Saugefleurie, who falls in love with a hunter and dies for having wanted to experience love with a human. The work starts with a rising melody in the cellos, depicting the lake, by the side of which the fairy lives. One cannot but be charmed by the attachment of the composer to nature, expressed here, as in the rest of the work, by orchestration that is always delicate and limpid, announcing the presence of a disciple of Berlioz who has understood Tristan and visited Bayreuth. In certain features of orchestral colouring and in other ways, Saugefleurie betrays the admiration of d’Indy for the composer of Siegfried. The Fantaisie pour hautbois, Op. 31 and the Suite Tableaux de Voyage, Op. 36 were written during the long period during which d’Indy was occupied with the composition of Fervaal, a score to which he attached great importance. It was during his customary stay at Chabret, in 1888, that he completed his Opus 31, published under the title of Fantaisie pour hautbois principal et orchestre sur des thèmes populaires français (“Fantasy for principal oboe and orchestra on popular French themes”). After the Symphonie Cévenole, composed two years before, d’Indy offered a further example of a score inspired by folklore. Rhapsodic in character, the Fantaisie is built on four themes, three of popular origin and a motif of his own marked lent et réveur (slow and dreamy). The work was first performed on 23rd December 1888 by the Concerts Lamoureux.
D’Indy did not spend the whole summer of 1888 at Chabret. In August he went to Bayreuth to hear The Mastersingers and Parsifal. The impressions that he brought back from his various travels in Germany or Austria were at the origin, in 1889, of his Tableaux de Voyage, a collection of thirteen pieces for piano. Two years later, with concerts to be conducted in January at Le Havre and Angers, he orchestrated six of the pieces to form the orchestral suite of the same name. The suite opens with an episode mysteriously preceded by a question mark. Of the theme, Léon Valles wrote: “It seems to be an obsessive memory of people and things from a far country, set in the midst of varied landscapes, an expression of regret, of which no contemplation can diminish the strength. The second piece, En marche, with its determined footsteps, needs no explanation. In the third, Le Glas (“The Knell”), a sad motif appears over a succession of fifths. Perhaps one should imagine, in the fourth, Lac vert (“Green Lake”), the undisturbed surface of the Fernsee, with its reflection of them surrounding pine-trees. The fifth, La poste, introduces the horn of the postilion, while the sixth, Réve (“Dream”), suggests the memories of the traveller on his return home.
It marks an important point in the history of French composition. Orchestral effects are varied and original. From this point of view, this is one of the most brilliant scores ever written. So declared Paul Dukas of Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal. The compliment was all the greater, coming, as it did, from a musician and critic not known for his kindness in these matters. Fervaal, a musical drama in a prologue and three acts, marked the culmination of a long compositional process. First performed on 12th March 1897 at the theatre of La Monnaie in Brussels, the music alone had taken the composer six years to complete, but the project went back to the 1880s, when d’Indy decided to set to music Axel, the narrative of the Swedish poet Tegner, the action of which is set in the seventeenth century. D’Indy, however, did not keep the story in its original setting, but transposed it, not without some difficulties, from Sweden to the period of the Saracen invasions in the Hautes-Cévennes. Axel, therefore, became Fervaal. Influenced by Wagner, principally Parsifal, d’Indy gives a symbolic function to the tonalities that appear as the instrument of dramatic development in Fervaal. This is clear in the Prélude to Act I, which the composer refers to in the third volume of his Traité de composition: “The Prelude, in F-sharp major, describes a loving landscape…Fervaal, sleeping in the gardens of Guilhen, sees in a dream, in the hostile key of B-flat, this figure of a woman that he must hate, then there is a return to F-sharp; a return to the landscape and this time the love theme is heard”.
Shortly after completing Fervaal, d’Indy started work on a new music drama, l’Etranger (“The Stranger”). Once again the story that inspired him was of Nordic origin, since it was in Ibsen’s Brand that he found the material of the libretto that, as in the case of Fervaal, he wrote himself. The action of l’Etranger, which has a central theme of sacrifice, is set in a fishing-village where a stranger has settled and seduced the heroine, Vita. The Prélude to the second act corresponds, in the story, to the night that separates the first two acts. Complex in mood, this episode describes the feelings of the stranger. Like Fervaal, the new opera was first performed at La Monnaie on 7th January 1903, then in Paris, on 4th December. In his criticism of the work, Claude Debussy referred first to the Wagnerian influence on the French composer, before welcoming the serene beauty that pervades this work and above all the calm daring of Vincent d’Indy in going further than he has gone before.
© 1994 Alain Cochard
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