On the road – Vincent goes lyrical

Claude Monet would have loved this. © Elisabeth Wohlgenannt
Claude Monet would have loved this. © Elisabeth Wohlgenannt

We have been traveling with Franz Liszt and Franz Schubert, and today I will take you on another journey. We shall meet the French composer Vincent d’Indy. He is less known than his colleagues Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, but his contribution to French classical music is noteworthy.

D’Indy lived from 1851 to 1931 and came from an aristocratic family with a tradition of male family members serving in the army. He took piano lessons and was trained in music theory, but his parents expected him to become an officer or a lawyer. A trip to Italy made him fall in love with Dante’s works and philosophy and was decisive in his career choice: In 1874, he entered the organ class of the Conservatoire de Paris, where he studied under the French composer and organist César Franck.

Weimar and Bayreuth

Parallel to his studies in Paris, he participated in a masterclass of Liszt in Weimar, which taught him the importance of tonal architecture and of a clear deployment of musical themes. In 1876, after graduation, he attended the premiere of Richard Wagner’s “Ring der Nibelungen” in Bayreuth… and came back to Paris deeply impressed. From then on his goal was clear: reform the French symphonic music. He considered the music composed in France in 19th century to be without depth, too superficial to compete with the German tradition going from Johann Sebastian Bach to Wagner. His own compositions are marked by their elaborate construction on the one hand and their lyrical character on the other hand.

Symphonic poems à la Liszt

But didn’t we plan to travel today? En route, donc! In 1889, d’Indy composed a piece called “Tableaux de voyage” Op. 36 (Paintings of a journey), and this piece illustrates his lyricism in an admirable way. The influence of Liszt is palpable, you just have to compare this piece with Liszt’s “Années de pélerinage”, subject of an earlier post of mine. Symphonic poems in the best German tradition. This becomes even more apparent in two pieces written much later: “Poème des rivages” Op. 77 (Poems from the shorelines, 1919-21) and “Dyptique méditerranéen” Op. 87 (Mediterranean Dyptichon, 1925).

If Germany’s composing style up to Wagner was clearly a beacon for d’Indy’s own compositions, he did not follow the so-called Second Viennese School, exemplified by Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern. This conservative attitude in musical matters was probably due to his uprising in conservative if not right-wing circles. If his reluctance towards new developments would have been limited to musical affairs, all would have been well. But d’Indy was also known for his antisemitic statements and welcomed World War I as a way to purify France as a country. A brilliant composer, but a weird mind…

D’Indy’s orchestral works have been recorded by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and “Tableaux de Voyage” is part of this set.

© Charles Thibo

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One thought on “On the road – Vincent goes lyrical”

  1. I have never heard of him and it might be because of his political beliefs that were not accepted of course or due to his old fashioned music style. In Denmark we have a very fine composer who lived at the time of Carl Nielsen. Nielsen was and is still very popular, but Rued Langgaard was never popular in his lifetime. A young female string quartet “The Nightingale Quartet” made his music popular here in the latest years.

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