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Vincent d’Indy's 

© 2005 by Don Robertson
Introduction written by Don Robertson for the score published by Musikproducktion Höflich. The score is available from that company  

-   CD of Istar at Amazon.com

     D’Indy composed a number of very beautiful programmatic orchestral works. One of these was Istar, Opus 42, from 1896.  The program for the work came from the sixth canto of an ancient Assyrian epic poem called Izdubar that was probably written about 2000 B.C.  In the poem, the beautiful Goddess Istar’s lover was being held captive in the underworld. To obtain his release, Istar traveled to the underworld, accessible only through a series of seven gates…the gates of Hell. Before entering each one of the seven gates, the beautiful Goddess was required to remove one of her garments, starting with her crown. Finally, when she had reached the seventh gate, the one that opened into the prison chamber, she removed the last piece of clothing, then emerged completely nude into to the dark place where her lover was imprisoned. Using this story as his script, d’Indy composed a brilliant set of variations that ran in reverse order, the theme appearing only once, after all its variations had already taken place. This reverse set of theme and variations was well adapted to d’Indy’s choice of program, with its gradual process of unfolding while stripping away outer elements to reveal an inner core. “In these seven variations,” the composer stated, “we proceed from the complex to the simple, causing the melody to be born little by little, as if emerging from the special harmony presented in the first variation.”
     Istar opens with a horn call beginning with the first three notes of the main theme leading into an introduction in the key of F minor. A dark theme played by the violas and bass clarinet symbolizes the nature of the place where Istar must journey. Following the introduction is the first variation in F major. Here Istar, sparkling with jeweled ornament, first appears musically. D’Indy presents only the harmonic background for the main melody in the first variation, devoid of any melodic elements. It is instead based on the chords that would have harmonized the theme. A reoccurrence of the thematic material from the introduction leads into the second variation in the key of E major, where d’Indy uses the harmonies from the first variation, introducing motives that he has extracted from the main theme. The third variation in Bb minor works with more parts of the theme. The lively forth variation in F# major works its way into the fifth in C minor, where the theme, played by the violas and cellos, is more clearly defined than before, becoming increasingly recognizable. The beautiful, flowing development in the sixth variation in Ab major is followed by the last variation in D minor: short and simple, employing only flute, piccolo and first violins. Finally the theme itself appears in F major. Remembering that its harmony was the subject of the first variation, we now find only the theme, without harmonization, played by horns, trumpets, strings, and woodwinds in a unison-octave tutti (d’Indy never combines the theme, presented at the end, with its chords, presented at the beginning). The statement of the theme is followed by a coda that ends the work.
     D’Indy conducted the first performance of Istar in Paris on January 16, 1898.
     One can hope that the orchestral music of Vincent d’Indy will one day find a welcome home in the repertoires of the world’s orchestras.

  © 2005 by Don Robertson

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