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The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle

The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle: Style, Culture, and the Symphonic Tradition

Andrew Deruchie
Volume: 100
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle
    Book Description:

    In this first full-length study of the symphony in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France, Andrew Deruchie provides extended critical discussion of seven of the most influential and frequently performed works of the era, by Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Édouard Lalo, Vincent d'Indy, and Paul Dukas. The volume explores how French symphonists reconciled Beethoven's legacy with the musical culture, intellectual environment, and political milieu of fin-de-siècle France, pursuing issues of musical form and also moving beyond the notes to consider questions of meaning. Andrew Deruchie is a lecturer in musicology at the University of Otago (New Zealand), specializing in French music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-838-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    A. D.
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In an article titled “De la symphonie moderne et de son avenir” (On the modern symphony and its future), which appeared in La Revue et gazette musicale in June 1870, the progressive critic Ives Kéramzer forecasted a bright future for the symphony in France: the nation’s young composers would take up the genre handed down from Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, and radically revitalize it. “The classical manner has said its final word,” he declared, “a new formula must be sought.”¹ This was a bold prediction for the time. Quite apart from the specifics of Kéramzer’s vision, his title...

  5. Chapter One Camille Saint-Saëns, Third Symphony
    (pp. 15-54)

    The literature on Saint-Saëns’s Third, often called the “Organ Symphony” on account of that instrument’s prominent role, usually traces its origins to London. There, the directors of the Royal Philharmonic Society, the august organization that had commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth and Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, met on July 4, 1885, and moved to solicit a new orchestral work from a leading French composer. Gounod was their first choice; if he refused, they would extend the offer to Delibes, Massenet, or “St. Saëns.”¹ It remains unclear what became of these petitions, but the society eventually invited Saint-Saëns to perform a piano concerto of...

  6. Chapter Two César Franck, Symphony in D Minor
    (pp. 55-89)

    César Franck began his Symphony in D Minor late in the summer of 1887, completing two-piano drafts of its three movements on September 12, September 30, and October 27. After a six-month hiatus to attend to his duties at the Conservatoire, he commenced the orchestration the following spring, and on August 22, at the age of sixty-six, he put the finishing touches to his first and only effort in the genre. The successful premieres of d’Indy’s Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français, Lalo’s G-Minor Symphony, and especially Saint-Saëns’s Third Symphony had perhaps piqued his interest.¹ Members of the composer’s circle...

  7. Chapter Three Édouard Lalo, Symphony in G Minor
    (pp. 90-118)

    Édouard Lalo wrote most of his Symphony in G Minor between August and November of 1886. The work, however, resulted from a long and circuitous genesis extending at least as far back as the early 1860s. Like his contemporary Gounod and the slightly younger Saint-Saëns, Lalo (1823–92) had composed two symphonies relatively early in his career, both apparently completed by 1862.¹ As he recounted in an often-quoted letter to A. B. Marcel, he presented one to Pasdeloup in the hope of securing a performance, but the eminent conductor rejected the work and burst out laughing at the scherzo.² Believing...

  8. Chapter Four Ernest Chausson, Symphony in B-flat Major
    (pp. 119-151)

    Ernest Chausson debuted as an orchestral composer in 1882 with the symphonic poem Viviane (heavily revised in 1887–88). He based its brief program upon Arthurian legend:

    Viviane and Merlin in the Brocéliande Forest—Love scene.

    Trumpet calls—King Arthur’s men roam the forest in search of the sorcerer.

    Merlin recalls his duty; he attempts to escape from Viviane’s arms and flee.

    The spell is cast—Viviane puts Merlin to sleep and wraps him in flowering hawthorns.

    The work’s plot recalls that of Liszt’s well-known symphonic poem Les Préludes, laid out in a program derived from Alphonse Lamartine’s Méditations poétiques:...

  9. Chapter Five Vincent d’Indy, Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français
    (pp. 152-184)

    “The style is the man. The man is his work. Vincent d’Indy is, fully and completely, a man of his style and his work.”¹ Thus summarized a critic identified only as “Fodège” the inextricable entwinement of aesthetics and ideology that characterized d’Indy’s thought. While it is a truism that a composer’s values and experiences will color his or her work, d’Indy wore such connections on his sleeve in a way few others did. Art, he stated at the beginning of his Cours de composition musicale (the pedagogical program of the Schola Cantorum, the Parisian music school he helped to found...

  10. Chapter Six Vincent d’Indy, Second Symphony
    (pp. 185-226)

    In 1930, Albert Roussel forecasted a bright future for d’Indy’s Second Symphony, composed in 1902–3. A successful symphonist in his own right, he predicted it would join the “few rare works whose value will only benefit from the patina of time.”¹ Roussel had good reason to be optimistic. The Lamoureux Orchestra had premiered the symphony in 1904 to resounding success, and it immediately entered the Parisian repertory. Although it never attained the popularity of the Mountain Symphony, it continued to appear regularly on concert programs in Roussel’s day in France and abroad.² Superlatives swirled in period writing. Early on,...

  11. Chapter Seven Paul Dukas, Symphony in C
    (pp. 227-258)

    Many of Paul Dukas’s contemporaries ranked him among the finest composers of his era. His output was perhaps the slimmest of any composer ever to have earned such a distinction, counting but a small handful of major compositions, a symphony, the symphonic poem L’Apprenti sorcier, the opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, the ballet La Peri, and a piano sonata among them. Dukas held himself to the most rigorous of standards and possessed a remorseless, even paralyzing, sense of self-criticism that appears to have intensified over his career. After 1912, he completed just a handful of small pieces. He did begin and...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 259-272)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-284)
  14. Index
    (pp. 285-294)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-301)