Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Vincent d'Indy: Second Symphony, in B-flat, Op.57

Vincent d'Indy's Second Symphony, in B-flat, Op.57 was written in 1903-4, and first publicly performed in February, 1904. It exemplifies the modern subjective trend of romantic music, but follows no program, adhering strictly to the methods of absolute musical presentation, though with those differences in result which the increasingly insistent demand for freedom of self-expression, free rein for personal emotions and passions, have inevitably brought about. Like the greater part of modern compositions, it tolerates no comparison with the sober objective art of the great classic masters; the latter, as is sufficiently apparent, aimed at the production of a unified structure to be viewed as Whole, whereas the moderns achieve their effects more through the Details, contenting themselves with a procession of passing images, often supremely lovely, but bound rather loosely together. This trait is recognizable among the later "classics" as early as Schumann, with whom beauty of detail supersedes firmness of structure. The distinction is obvious in d'Indy's music, though he, and others, have the happy custom of welding the panoramic details into an effective and perspicuous unit through the employment of Leading Motives. Thus, in this Symphony, the entire work rests upon a figure of four tones, announced portentously in the Introduction, and interwoven through the fabric of all the Movements, in multifold rhythmic shapes.

The first Movement is in sonata-allegro form.

The second (slow) Movement is a First-Rondo form, augmented by two alternations of the principal Theme with the same subordinate one (somewhat modified). The chief Theme is a lyric sentence of unusual melodic character, typical of d'Indy's thought, weird, but not without a certain strain of loveliness; the other Theme is frankly unmelodious, in jerky dotted rhythm. A brief Introduction opens the slow movement with an echo of the first figure of the Theme of the preceding one. Into the subordinate Theme the Leading Motive (in extended form) is here and there inserted.

The third Movement is essentially the Scherzo, but its chief, opening, Theme is a Romanza of simple, tender beauty. The other, alternating Theme (the design appoximates the First-Rondo) is evolved from the Leading Motive, in fantastic rhythmic shape, wild, bacchantic, insistent---used ostensibly as accompaniment to other wild melodic phrases, one of which resembles the jerky subordinate Theme of the slow Movement. The lyric Theme is drawn for a time into the orgiastic, dizzy whirl, but regains its composure near the end.

The Finale is a marvel of thematic artifice and astounding ingenious combinations. It corresponds to none of the conventional designs, though the presence of two essential Themes is vaguely evident. The form can therefore claim no more accurate designation than a fanciful Series of Episodes, utilizing all the motives of the foregoing Movements, and one or two new ones, interlaced with dazzling skill, admirably controlled, and effectively presented.

This Symphony is appraised by many critics as too cerebral. One commentator of wide orchestral experience declares his conviction that it just misses being a truly great work, because it lacks spontaneity. Unquestionably it displays a greater proportion of mental reflection than genuine human sentiment, and of that quality, absolutely indispensable in a work of art, especially of the Tone-art, namely, Beauty---a quality for which no degree of technical skill can compensate.

But be all that as it may, this Symphony is a creation to be reckoned with. It is, in many respects at least, a "great" Symphony---great in its scope, in its originality, in its supreme craftsmanship, in its sincerity; the product of an extraordinary musical genius. I hope you find this piece as controversial as I have.


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