The DoveSong

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Vincent d’Indy's 

© 2006 by Don Robertson
Introduction written by Don Robertson for the score published by Musikproducktion Höflich. The score is available from that company  

-   CD with Souvenirs at Amazon.com

-   CD with Souvenirs at Amazon.com

     During December of 1905, Vincent d'Indy traveled to the United States to conduct a series of concerts given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. American audiences were captivated as the French composer lifted his baton to perform such masterpieces such as Franck’s beautiful Psyché, Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande, Chausson’s symphony, the Nocturnes of Debussy, and d’Indy’s own Istar. He returned to France, however, only to find his beloved wife Isabelle on her death bed and within days she died in her husband’s arms. During the first months of 1906, quietly reflecting on their marriage of just over 30 years, the distraught composer began contemplating a musical composition that would reflect in music, the treasured memories of his true love, reflecting on their vacations together in the French mountains. That summer he composed the symphonic poem Souvenirs (Remembrances). On August 22, 1906, d’Indy wrote his student Marcl Labey that he had just completed the work, the longest orchestral movement he had ever written. Dedicated to his bien-aimée--his beloved--it was intended for his own ears only, and possibly those of just a few close friends.
     On the return from his summer vacation in September, d’Indy, nearly sobbing with emotion, played the work on the piano for some of his closest friends. He explained to them that he had no intention of publishing this deeply personal work, wanting it to remain their secret. At the most, he might arrange for a single performance at the Société Nationale de Musique if enough rehearsals were provided. And that is what occurred; a performance was given at there on April 20, 1907. Soon after, his friends convinced the composer to allow the work to be published. A second performance followed on December 22.
     The music of Souvenirs flows from a single theme, a theme representing d’Indy’s beloved wife, Isabelle, le thème bien-aimée that originally appeared in a delightful symphonic poem for piano called Poème des Montagnes, Opus 15, written in March, 1881. Consisting of fifteen sections, the piano work evoked d’Indy’s love for Isabelle and for the Ardèche region of France where they spent their vacations. In the original piano work, the motive first appears in a short slow section titled “La bien-aimée,” and is developed farther on in three other sections. Actually, the thème bien-aimée is a motive rather than a theme, as it consists of only four notes. Souvenirs opens with the four-note bien-aimée motive played by the first flute in the key of A minor: E, D, A, C. 
     At Rehearsal No. 1, the bien-aimée motive becomes the basis for the head motive of Melody No. 1, a plaintive song sung by the English horn. The second part of this melody occurs at Rehearsal No. 2 on Page 3. The opening harmonies based on the bien-aimée motive reoccur re-orchestrated on Page 4. At Rehearsal No. 3 on the following page, d’Indy prepares for Part Two of the work and Melody No. 2 begins on Page 7, played by the first violins doubled by a flute an octave higher. Beginning in the forth bar after Rehearsal No. 4, Melody No. 2 is repeated. There is an interlude beginning at Rehearsal No. 5, and a codetta at No. 6.
      Part Three begins on Page 16 of the score, where the key change is to one flat. The bien-aimée motive appears in what we will call Melody No. 3, played by the first flute. The motive is broken into two sections and decorated by an orchestral background of trills and pizzicato effects. At Rehearsal No. 9 on Page 20, a forth melody is introduced by the clarinet, the four-note head motive being the bien-aimée motive. This music is based on a section marked “À Deux” in the Poème des Montagnes, maintaining the same melody with rhythmic variation.
     Part Four, beginning on Page 24, is a development section. Melody No. 2 first appears in the celli and basses, then variations thereof appear starting on Page 27 played by horns and first violins, decorated at Rehearsal No. 14 by woodwinds playing the bien-aimée motive. The music continues at Rehearsal No. 15 in this developmental section with more instances of the bien-aimée motive played by the woodwinds, then the first violins. On Page 37, it appears in the woodwinds, repeated in four-measure groups. At Rehearsal No. 17, the four-measure groups based on the bien-aimée motive continue, with the head motive of the second melody played first by trombones, then with added trumpets. The music continues to a climax on Page 45, with the bien-aimée motive appearing in the first violins, prominently played in octaves and doubled by woodwinds.
     The recapitulation, Part Five, begins on Page 52 with a key change to three flats. Melody No. 1 returns played by the strings and backed up by the oboes and English horn. The journey of remembrances is nearly over as the hour of death approaches. On Page 55, a clarinet quietly tones the bien-aimée motive to the accompaniment of muted strings and this music leads up to a short new section at Rehearsal No. 24, where melodic derivations from the main melody are played by a horn, then by flute. On Page 60 the strings proclaim Melody No. 2 in octaves, suddenly interrupted on Page 63 by two measures of a timpani roll and a distorted version of the bien-aimée motive played by the English horn. The distortion of the motive is accomplished by the lowering of the third note. This lowered note creates a feeling of sadness because now a tritone interval occurs between it and the previous note. Following this, the music continues as before, based on Melody No. 2. On Page 66, the interruption occurs again with the reappearance of the distorted motive, this time played by a clarinet. At Rehearsal No. 27, the music based on Melody No. 2 resumes again and continues to Rehearsal No. 28 on Page 70 where Melody No. 3 is featured.
     At Rehearsal No. 29, Melody No. 2 is featured again. On Page 73 at measure No. 5, four-measure groups appear again with the bien-aimée motive as before, but now the motive has become even more distorted. This occurs again on Page 76. The modified bien-aimée motive is a premonition of death, a leading up to the moment of Madame d’Indy’s passing. The Idyll has now transformed into sadness and on Page 78, a single G note is sounded by the second oboe for eleven measures (d’Indy allows the first oboe to take over playing the note in Measure 8: before the other oboist’s face turns blue). The single G note then turns into a phrase based on the head motives for the first and forth melodies. On Page 79, in the bottom system, the clarinet plays the distorted bien-aimée motive while the harpist plays twelve harmonic notes: a distant chime striking the midnight hour, the hour of Isabelle d’Indy’s final passing. 
       On Page 80, after a long silence, we are again presented with the first melody played by the violas doubled by woodwinds in a grand final affirmation. On Page 83, the opening chords from the beginning of the piece reoccur, this time played by the strings alone. This is followed by the bien-aimée motive in its pure form--using the original intervals--intoned by the small trumpet doubling a muted solo viola, affirming the continuation of life after death.
      A beautiful composition by an important composer whose work was nearly forgotten. Now that a new century has dawned and concert audiences long for music that is consonant, we look forward to a resurgence of the music of the four great masters of the Franck school of French classical music: César Franck, Ernest Chausson, Herni Duparc, and Vincent d’Indy.

  © 2006 by Don Robertson

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