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A Purposeful Vigour

Symphonies by
Albéric Magnard -

'... a notable symphonic architect.'

Albéric Magnard: The Four Symphonies. © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

Although there are instances of composers finding the road to success made all the smoother for being the progeny of a wealthy family, it does not always carry the expected guarantees. Whilst it may with some certainty buy a seat at the table of the influential, it is still necessary for the optimistic candidate for fame to have talent in the appropriate quantities. It is however less usual to find a composer like Albéric Magnard, remarkably gifted, who resented the advantages that the wealth of his father, publishing director of Le Figaro newspaper group, was prepared to provide.

At the age of four his mother died, and from then until his father's death in 1894 (when Albéric was twenty-nine) he was cocooned in affluence. But his increasing rebellion against this comfort was a signal that he wished to prove himself on his own merits. Through law school and military service he harboured the need to devote himself completely to composition, and entry into the Paris Conservatoire, an encounter with Tristan and Isolde, the friendship of d'Indy and an introduction into the César Franck circle by Guy Ropartz, who had become a close student friend, all paved the way to his First Symphony, completed in 1890. This was built on a cyclic framework, much influenced by the unifying process inherited from Franck.

There is already a strength and breadth in the fine contours of the writing of its second 'Religioso' movement

Listen -- Magnard: Religioso, Largo -- Andante (Symphony No 1)
(CD 1 track 2, 4:47-6:11) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

and a purposeful vigour in his symphonic thinking, impressive for a young (25-year-old) symphonist.

Listen -- Magnard: Strepitoso (Symphony No 1)
(CD 1 track 1, 0:03-1:32) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

The Second Symphony was completed three years later and shows a greater symphonic concentration, cutting to clearer succinct focus. Each new symphony now has a second movement that is a swift and lively dance.

Listen -- Magnard: Danses: Vif (Symphony No 2)
(CD 1 track 6, 0:01-1:20) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

Its finale ends with a joyful optimism which was to be short-lived -- his father died the following year.

Listen -- Magnard: Final: Vif et gai (Symphony No 2)
(CD 1 track 8, 7:16-8:20) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

Magnard completed a Third Symphony in 1896, the year of his marriage to Julia Creton when he also became counterpoint tutor at the Schola Cantorum which was then a new institution under d'Indy's leadership. In this work there is an air of calm, something archaic and well controlled in its structure, a maturity that runs in its veins

Listen -- Magnard: Introduction et Ouverture (Symphony No 3)
(CD 2 track 1, 0:02-1:42) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

although the light vigour of the dance is again placed immediately after that strong first movement.

Listen -- Magnard: Danses: Très vif (Symphony No 3)
(CD 2 track 2, 0:01-1:07) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

By the time the Fourth Symphony appeared in 1913 Magnard had suffered great disappointments in the poor reception of his music and from this grew the self doubt that brought about depression. But the Fourth has an expansiveness not unlike that of his contemporary Mahler, and yet an atmosphere as of inhabiting another world, similar to that of Mahler which made them both in their way more forward-looking than the fast approaching Viennese School. After the swift and exhilarating second movement

Listen -- Magnard: Vif (Symphony No 4)
(CD 2 track 6, 3:23-4:33) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

there is a languid and intense slow movement ('Sans lenteur et nuancé')

Listen -- Magnard: Sans lenteur et nuancé (Symphony No 4)
(CD 2 track 7, 0:00-1:07) © 1998, 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

which leads without a break into an intense finale.

In 1904 Magnard took up residence in the Manoir des Fontaines, a little north of Paris, with his wife and two daughters. Ten years later Paris was surrounded by the German army and he had sent his family away for safety. The Germans entered his estate and he defended his property from an upper window, killing one of the soldiers. The Germans then set fire to the house, and Magnard perished in the flames along with manuscripts of two operas, a newly completed song cycle and his superb collection of books and paintings. He was forty-nine. He very much deserves to be remembered as a notable symphonic architect.

Copyright © 2 August 2009 Patric Standford,
Wakefield UK







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