About this Recording
8.573522 - INDY, V. d': Symphony No. 2 / Souvenirs / Istar (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tingaud)
English  French 

Vincent d’Indy (1851–1931)
Symphony No. 2 • Souvenirs • Istar • Fervaal


Described by Gabriel Fauré as the ‘Samson of Music’, Vincent d’Indy significantly enriched French musical culture as it made its transition into the twentieth century. The most significant influences found in his work come from Wagner¹, and Franck, of whom he was a student, and d’Indy continued his master’s celebrated teaching methods at the Schola Cantorum, where his numerous pupils included such diverse figures as Satie, Roussel, Milhaud and Cole Porter. Today, d’Indy is considered more as a teacher of composition than as a composer in his own right, yet his orchestral works in particular demonstrate great skill and creativity, with his eclectic style often drawing inspiration from other composers, especially Wagner, and at other times integrating folk tunes (from his native Ardeche region) and Gregorian chant², for d’Indy was a devout Catholic.

This religious faith is revealed in the structure of the Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 57, composed in 1902–03 and dedicated to Paul Dukas. While the symphonies of Bruckner (another devout Catholic) are often described as ‘cathedrals in sound’, d’Indy also considered the concept of the classical four movement symphonic form to be analogous to the architecture of great mediaeval Gothic cathedrals, hence the traditional organization of his Second Symphony. However, this is not to imply that its form is entirely conservative, for the use of motifs recurring across its four movements plays an important part in its structural coherence. Herein lies the central thesis of the symphony: a musical argument outlining the tension between tradition and innovation.

This musical exploration of contrasts is evident in the first movement. The dark, sinister opening exposes two opposing motifs, which play key roles in the musical argument throughout the symphony. The first of these, motif A, comprises a tritone (B flat-D flat-C-E), posing an immediate threat to traditional harmonic stability; the second, motif B, consists of a descending fourth and a rising seventh.

Following the presentation of these motifs, a sudden gear-shift occurs with the entrance of a triumphant theme from the solo horn (1:30), establishing a clearly-defined B flat major tonality. After playful imitations between the strings and wind, this harmonic stability is momentarily undermined by instances of hexachords (2:34), built up from the bass and accompanied by an exotic harp glissando. D’Indy uses this brief, tonally ambiguous passage with triplets in the horns to lead into the deeply expressive second subject (3:11.), whose melodic shape is derived from motif B, and is in the dominant key of F major, following sonata-form convention.

The development (4:19) finds the first subject in the cellos and in the key of D minor, sounding somewhat less heroic than its first incarnation. Unusually, the recapitulation (6:13) includes the introductory material, rather than beginning from the first subject. However, motif A is subtly but significantly altered from a tritone to a fifth, and beneath delicate, simultaneously ascending and descending harp writing, a solo trumpet soars above, developing this motif further and combining it with motif B (6:39). The horns return victorious with the first subject (7:17) though when the second subject reappears, d’Indy swaps the warmth of the strings for a more defined sound from a solo oboe (8:49), with the rest of the woodwind following soon after, leading to the jubilant conclusion.

The slow movement is in five sections; the first theme is derived from motif B, heard at the start in the bass clarinet in D flat major. By contrast, motif A forms the basis for a contrasting E-centred theme (3:16), whose scoring in dotted rhythms, folk-like melody and wholetone scales anticipates Vaughan Williams’ Wasps Overture, written just several years later. A calm middle section decorated by glistening descending figures in the harp (4:45) is succeeded by the recapitulation of the first two themes in reverse: first the dotted-rhythm folk-like theme (6:40) and then the original theme, now in the solo flute (7:50).

There follows an intermezzo in which a solo viola presents a simple melody, reminiscent of a melancholic folk song. This gives way to a much more playful episode (1:53) where whole-tone scales occur once again. The original melody reappears (3:02), now transformed into a jovial dance in the woodwind, before the boisterous second trio takes over. The movement threatens to end as it began, with the return of the downcast melody, now in the clarinet, but can’t help concluding with a final flourish.

The introduction of the fourth movement continues where the third left off, echoing the folk-like theme in the strings before handing over to a melody in the clarinet based on motif B (0:45). After statements of both motifs, motif B is heard in the return of the first movement’s second subject (1:49). These cyclic gestures are cemented with the ensuing fugal treatment of motif A (2:23), though motif B competes for first place, reappearing in feverish string writing during an accelerando (4:37), which leads into the scherzo-like main theme of this sonata-rondo movement, based on motif B and in 5/4 time (5:17). Although the dark shadow of motif A at the very start of the symphony returns in the doublebasses (9:52), this is met by an ethereal response in the solo violin of motif B, and the drawn-out crescendo leading to the closing chorale sees the latter motif triumphant.

The symphonic poem Souvenirs, dedicated ‘A la memoire de la Bien-Aimee’, was composed three years after the Second Symphony. The ‘Bien-Aimee’ is d’Indy’s wife, Isabelle, who died from a brain haemorrhage in 1906. Extensive use of the ‘Bien-Aimee’ theme—taken from his piano piece Poème des montagnes (1881)—recurs throughout the work, and is subjected to rhythmic and chromatic developments. The theme, frequently given to the cor anglais, first appears after a brief, sombre introduction in A minor (0:53). However, this sorrowful opening is soon swept aside by a contrasting second theme in E major, replete with lively rustic dance rhythms (3:26). D’Indy announces the ‘Bien-Aimee’ theme in the trumpets in a huge E major climax, marking the time of midday (8:39). The recapitulation (9:46) sees the return of the second theme in A major, interrupted by two elegiac calls from the ‘Bien-Aimee’ above ill-fated timpani rolls. After a series of grief-stricken dissonances (14:16), the ‘Bien-Aimee’ appears once again in the clarinet, accompanied by twelve repeated harp harmonics (15:41), marking the chimes of midnight—the hour of Isabelle’s death—and the return of the opening material draws the piece to its mournful end.

Istar, Op. 42 was dedicated to the Societe symphonique des concerts Ysaÿe, and premiered in Brussels on 10th January 1897. These ‘Variations symphoniques’ are based on an episode in the ancient Assyrian epic poem Izdubar: to release her lover held captive in the Underworld, the Goddess Istar must remove one of her garments at each of the Seven Doors of the Dark Abode until she eventually passes through the Seventh Door. D’Indy reflects this narrative through a set of orchestral variations in reverse order, beginning with the most complex (Istar fully clothed) and ending with the theme itself to represent the Goddess in her full nakedness. The introduction presents two contrasting ideas which recur during the course of the variations to mark Istar’s progress through the succession of doors: a ‘Summons’ motif in the solo horn; and a subtle descending and ascending march melody in the woodwind and strings. After various permutations of this material through the following variations, the theme itself finally emerges in full, unadorned yet majestic in its unison texture, before the march melody returns to mark the end of the deity’s journey.

Fervaal, Op. 40 was d’Indy’s first opera, composed 1889–95. It is a work of Wagnerian scale, employing a complex network of leitmotifs. The action centres on the doomed love which arises between the warrior Fervaal, the last descendent of the Celtic gods, and Guilhen, a young Saracen princess, who stands on the opposite side of the conflict. The Prelude introduces several motifs which play an integral part in the opera, including the ‘Love’ motif (an expressive falling seventh and fifth, in the flute and clarinet); the ‘Desire’ motif (three rising chromatic notes and a seventh); and the music of Fervaal asleep in Guilhen’s gardens, which rounds off the Prelude with the same, dark atmosphere as the opening.

Dominic Wells

¹ D’Indy was present at the very first Ring cycle at Bayreuth.

² D’Indy’s music drama La Légende de Saint Christophe, for example, is based on themes from Gregorian chant.

Close the window