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ClassicsOnline Home » INDY: Piano Trio and Quintet / String Quartet No. 3
Vincent d’Indy (1851–1931)
String Quartet No 3 in D Flat Major, Op 96 • Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op 81
Wilfrid d’Indy (b. 1821)
Piano Trio in G Major, Op 15
Born in Paris in 27 March 1851 to a family that traced its descent from nobility in the mountainous Ardèche region of Languedoc, Paul Marie Thédore Vincent d’Indy was brought up by his grandmother in a tyrannical atmosphere of moral and intellectual discipline that at times bordered on cruelty. Still, the aristocratic Countess Rézia d’Indy was a cultured woman who had known Grétry and had admired Beethoven’s music during the composer’s lifetime. She engaged prestigious teachers for her grandson’s musical education. After five years of study, the sixteen-year old d’Indy discovered Berlioz’s Traité d’instrumentation, and bedazzled by the splendours of the orchestra, he decided then and there on a musical career despite the family’s unequivocal intention that he would become a lawyer. After returning from voluntary service in the Franco-Prussian War, he defiantly abandons his legal studies and joined the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne as a timpanist.
Two pivotal events that shaped d’Indy’s musical character can be credited to his friend, Henri Duparc. The first was a meeting with César Franck. Previously having won Bizet’s and Massenet’s approval for his overblown Symphonie italienne, the young composer must have found Franck’s criticism devastating, but after an initial pronouncement of “You have ideas, but you cannot do anything!” Franck acknowledged d’Indy’s talent and accepted him as a disciple upon whom he was to imprint his ideas indelibly. The second event was d’Indy’s journey with Duparc to Bayreuth for the first performance of The Ring. Unquestionably d’Indy yielded to Wagner’s spell, but unlike many a weaker personality he was not engulfed. He absorbed and assimilated only what he deemed useful while maintaining his individuality.
In 1894, together with Charles Bordes and Alexandre Guilmant, d’Indy founded the Schola Cantorum as an association for the performance of sacred music. It soon broadened its purview and by 1900 had grown into a general music school founded on Franckist principles. With growing prestige it came to rival the Conservatoire as France’s preeminent musical centre. With the influx of foreign students d’Indy extended his influence from Chile to Turkey, while in France alone he could name Magnard, Sévérac, Roussel, Le Flem, Canteloube, Satie, Honegger and Auric among his many students.
The Schola Cantorum was an institution that in many ways expressed d’Indy’s overwhelming, often contradictory personality. D’Indy was an aristocrat who preferred to live simply. His outward inflexibility and apparent aloofness concealed a sensitive, gregarious nature. His sympathies were fervently nationalistic, yet he advocated Wagnerian principles for French music. His Roman Catholic devoutness bordered on Calvinist austerity, while the pagan sensuality of nature and legend exerted a powerful allure. His approach to music was keenly analytical, but continually he stressed the importance of inspiration. Such paradoxes produced music of equal richness and fascination. Its idiom embraces the diverse influences of Gregorian chant, Palestrina, French folk-song, Bach, late Beethoven, Berlioz and Wagner. Above all d’Indy is perceived as Franck’s heir and successor, who favoured the Teutonic fondness for continuity, thematic links and cellular development. Although he based his work on sound classical principles, he did not exclude the inspiration of folk-music. The intellectual complexity of d’Indy’s scores may intimidate, yet clarity and order reign. His music may be calculated with mathematical precision, yet what one hears is its poetry.
D’Indy approached chamber music with utmost seriousness and attached special importance to the string quartet, which he felt was a medium that must await the composer’s maturity. True to his convictions, he composed his first string quartet at the age of forty. He completed two others and left a fourth unfinished at the time of his death on 2 December 1931. Each of the first two quartets (Marco Polo 8.223140) is based on a motto theme, and the employment of short phrases, pregnant with dramatic possibilities, recalls Beethoven’s late quartets. The first, in 1891, won nearly unanimous acclaim as the work of a true master. Although the quartet cogently observed the cyclical principle, it failed to derive all its melodic elements from a single motif, and such a compromise, given its first performance led to d’Indy’s dissatisfaction with it. Four years later he realised his ideal in the second quartet. There the motto is not a fully formed theme, as it had been in the previous quartet, but a four-note germ that engenders virtually the entire composition. Upon its première in 1898, it gained immediate recognition as a masterpiece, and critics on both sides of the Atlantic lauded its technical perfection, passionate beauty, and intellectual and emotional power.
In later years d’Indy’s style underwent simplification, evident at first in the concise, lucid Quintet in G Minor for Piano and Strings, Op 81. Composed in 1924, this appealing work represents the Gallic facet of his personality and shows a relaxation of the cyclical form, which had been applied more rigorously in earlier compositions. Only the second subject of the flowing Assez animé first movement appears subsequently. D’Indy excelled in the use of irregular meters, and the 5/4 scherzo, likewise designated Assez animé, enfolds a trio also in quintuple time but cleverly varied for the sake of rhythmic contrast. Presented by the strings, the unusually beautiful theme that opens the introspective slow movement, Lent, seems distantly to echo folk-song, and some wonderful harmonics add poignancy. The piano introduces the contrasting theme, a broaded version of the first movement’s second subject. Liveliness infuses much of the finale, Modérément animé, and the cyclical theme makes one last appearance to play an important rôle in the concluding pages.
A hiatus of more than three decades separates the first and second string quartets from Quartet No 3 in D-flat Major, composed in 1928–29. Although markedly different in style from the earlier quartets, the third shows d’Indy’s capacities undiminished and represents the relaxed, refined classicism of his last years. The initial impression is one of extreme austerity, conveyed by the widely spaced intervals of the cyclical motif announced at the outset. In a brief introduction the instruments ruminate on this motif until the first subject arises from it on the first violin. This movement, Entrée en sonate, possesses a high degree of cohesion, with the second subject proceeding from the first. The initial mood of searching and inquiry continues in the development until a moment of melodic bloom marks the climax, followed by a quiet but luminous reprise. The Intermède begins by evoking a stately ancient dance in steady 6/8 time. The employment of modality sustains the antique flavour, and the contrasting trio conceals restrained passion beneath its lyricism. A fantastic mood infuses the return of the scherzo section. In Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music the critic Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi describes d’Indy’s versatility as encompassing the austere and the sober, the exuberant and the luscious, the pure and abstract, as well as the poetic and descriptive. All those qualities find expression in the latter half of the third quartet. Beginning in the antique mood carried over from the Intermède, the slow movement (Thème varié) consists of a theme based on the cyclical motif plus seven variations wit rich and varied emotional content, nevertheless unified by two harmonic and rhythmic ideas. Inaugurating the finale, the cyclical motif, now inverted, gives rise to a rondo with five refrains. Often leisurely and rhapsodic, the episodes culminate with the reappearance of the slow-movement theme, sung by the first violin as a triumphal chant.
Very little is known today of Vincent’s uncle, Count Saint-Ange Wilfrid d’Indy, and published references are few. We know that Wilfrid was born in 1821 and that together with his younger brother Antonin (Vincent’s father) he broke with the family’s military tradition, because under the political circumstances of the time service to the king was no longer possible. With the Countess Rézi’a consent, Wilfrid devoted himself to the composition of chamber music and opéras-comiques (e.g. Les Deux Princesses, 1859) and became well-known in French salons and theatres. Even Rossini, an honoured guest at the d’Indy home in the 1860s, expressed an interest in his work, but music remained no more than a gentleman’s diversion. Accordingly Wilfrid d’Indy’s view were decidedly conservative, and his music was designed for pleasure rather than profundity. In later years he severely criticized his nephew, whom he had once encouraged. The last reference to Wilfrid d’Indy in Léon Vallas’s two-volume biography, Vincent d’Indy, concerns his condemnation in 1877 of Vincent’s Chant de la cloche for its excessive erudition and tedium. Clearly, Uncle Wilfrid’s mellifluous music belongs to a previous age. Published in Paris some time during the 1870s, the abundantly tuneful and genuinely captivating Trio in G Major, Op 15, harks back to an earlier, Middle European romanticism.
© David Nelson
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